Makeni, SIERRA LEONE – Despite the potential for employment opportunities in Kafountine and Africa at large due to its youthful population, many young Africans are choosing to undertake dangerous journeys to Europe through the canaries on irregular migration.
Irregular migration often involves crossing borders illegally and facing numerous rises, including human trafficking, exploitation, and hazardous travel conditions, in search of what they perceived as better prospects.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has reported that from 2014 to 2021 over 29,000 migration deaths were recorded on irregular Africa to Europe journeys. This reality indicates that the issue of migration in the Kafountine community located in the Casamance region of Senegal and the rest of the continent remains a complex challenge causing a demographic surge, since a large number of young people are regularly attempting to enter the European labour market each year.
Africa’s demographic trend can be a valuable asset for the continent if harnessed effectively through education and job creation. While Kafountine heavily relies on fishing for its livelihood, with 60% of the national fish exports coming from the region, yet, its economic dependence has been vulnerable to exploitation and illegal activities, such as human trafficking.
Its ethnic diversity has made it a new found home for a number of Sierra Leoneans, Ghanaians, and Gambians among other people from various national backgrounds settling in the area. This diversity can bring both cultural richness and economic challenges, especially for the local administration in terms of managing resources and addressing the needs of different groups.
Its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean has made it a transit point for illegal migration, with many youths attempting to reach the Canary Islands. This journey is perilous, often resulting in fatalities and hardships for those attempting it, but returnees have proffered solutions to address the aging problem.
Mayor of Kafountine David Diatta who spearheads the local administration says he has been trying to address the issue of illegal migration through measures like instituting bylaws and introducing sea monitors, but the lack of support from the central government has hindered successive efforts by him and other local partners.
While many youths have lost their lives through the irregular migration evident in the community, some returnees from illegal migration have emphasized the need for local investment in Senegal and across Africa as a solution to end illegal migration.
They argue that creating employment opportunities, boosting trade, and promoting industrialization would provide alternatives to risky journeys abroad.
Boubacar Diatta who identified himself as the Kafountine’s returnees’ leader, says he’s leading advocacy for their repatriation packages, also working to raise awareness about the dangers of illegal migration.
For him, he sees investment as a way to provide economic stability and discourage young people from pursuing illegal migration. “The hurdles we went through were unbearable, ranging from being starved on the high seas, to being arrested and detained in foreign prisons, watching colleagues pass away on their way as well as being exposed to odd jobs,” he reflected.
Largely, fingers are being pointed to unidentified groups as the drivers of the illegal trade. The unknown persons are believed to be making a profit from human trafficking, contributing to the continuation of illegal migration.
As described by some of the returnees during interviews with a group of journalists from Sierra Leone, Senegal and Ghana supported by the Minority Rights Group International (MRGI) and partners including the European Union is indeed complex and highlights several critical issues that the community is facing, particularly in relation to illegal migration and the need for local investment.
Also prominent among their proffered solutions to tackle the situation of irregular migration in Kafountine is addressing the issue through coordinated efforts by authorities and international organizations.
They re-echoed that, the situation in Kafountine shows multifaceted challenges faced by the community including economic dependence on fishing, illegal migration, and the need for local investment to provide viable alternatives for the youth, plus collaborative efforts involving local authorities, central government support, international organizations, and community engagement are necessary to address these complex issues and promote sustainable development in the region. ARW/5/10/2023