Senegal cracks down on Europe refugee boats: Will others follow?

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The West African nation’s navy is stopping refugee boats at record rates. But who does that help — other than Europe?

In posts updated almost daily on social media, Senegal’s navy details how its patrol boat, Walo, reroutes vessels crammed with refugees trying to get to Europe. Photos show people disembarking from the boats, their faces blurred out: women in flowing chiffon dresses, barefoot children, a man wearing an “Mbour Sport Academie” shirt.

Last year, Senegalese authorities intercepted just one known boat headed for Europe. But just in the space of a week this September, more than 600 would-be refugees were turned back by the country’s navy, just as their canoes started inching across the turbulent Atlantic on a dangerous but popular journey.

The surge in the numbers of people headed off from the high seas highlights how the West African country – a major departure point for Senegalese, but also Gambians and Malians –  is stepping up to stem irregular migration flows. Some 1,500 people have been transferred to local authorities since May, Senegal’s navy claims, more than 95 percent of all recorded interceptions in 2022.

Some experts say this increased action could serve as a model for other African countries, whose citizens now make up half of the top 10 origin countries for irregular refugee arrivals in Europe. Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire and Egypt top the list. “African governments need to take a strong interest and act,” said Linda Adhiambo Oucho, director of the African Migration and Development Policy Centre (AMADPOC).

Migration to Europe is only a quarter of movement on the continent, but as the dead pile up in the seas, governments need to step up, Oucho says: “The African Union can use Senegal to show best practices and encourage a stronger regional approach to curbing precarious mobility.”

But others argue that by itself, stopping migration doesn’t address the underlying causes forcing people to move — and that initiatives like Senegal’s could grow into mechanisms for Europe to outsource its challenge of limiting refugee arrivals.

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