Science - September 21, 2006

Living in Europe is an illusion for African people

Every day, hundreds of people from West African countries risk their lives to reach Europe by boat. Amadou Seck from Senegal can imagine that people take the risk, but he says it isn’t worth it. ‘In Europe life can be even harder for them.’

Amadou is studying Land and Water Management at the University of Professional Education Van Hall Larenstein in Velp. Almost every day he sees the news on TV about people from his home country who have died on their trip over the sea to the Canary Islands. ‘I would never do that, but I can understand why they do,’ says Amadou. ‘Many young people in Senegal have no work. They can’t do anything there, they don’t have a future. So I think it’s a natural instinct to move away from such a situation. They hear about life in Europe and want to go there. Before, people travelled through the Sahara and tried to cross the Strait of Gibraltar. It’s only 14 kilometres wide; but it isn’t easy to succeed anymore because of the police everywhere. So now they go from the coast of Senegal to the Canary Islands. But that’s about 4000 kilometres over the rough sea. It’s very dangerous. They travel in a pirogue, a traditional fishing boat. That kind of boat is absolutely not fit for use in the open sea. More than half of the people die in the boat.’

It’s awful for Amadou to see the news about people from his home country dying on the way to their new future. So it was a shock when he heard that his own cousin made the same trip. ‘I was really shocked. It is the first time someone close to me did that. Luckily he succeeded and is in Italy now. I don’t know exactly how he got there or what will happen now.’

The difficult situation in Senegal and other African countries is not the only reason for people to emigrate to Europe. The image that African people have about Europe is also important. ‘It’s an illusion,’ says Amadou. ‘They think that you can buy everything when you earn money in Europe. But they don’t understand that life in Europe is much more expensive.

‘Once they are living illegally in Europe, life will be even harder for them. It’s really hard to find a job and life is expensive. They have to live somewhere, they have to eat. It’s really hard for them to get enough money just to take care of themselves. But if you tell this to the people in Senegal, they won’t believe you. They are kind of blind. They have nothing and will risk anything to go to Europe. They think it’s easier there, but it’s not.’

If reality won’t hold back these people, what is the solution? The most important thing, according to Amadou, is that Europe really help African countries develop. ‘There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “If you want to help someone, don’t give him a fish to eat, but teach him how to fish.” So if you want a good development process, don’t give money for one or two years. We need basic structures like good health care and a good education system.’

Another solution would be to make it easier to go to Europe. Amadou doesn’t think this would cause an enormous wave of migration from Africa to Europe. ‘If it’s legal, people will not be so quick to jump on it. Now it’s almost impossible to get a visa. If people can go there whenever they want to, the myth will disappear. Some people will go to Europe, but I don’t think many people will stay there.’

Amadou is in the naturalisation process in the Netherlands; so if he graduates, he can stay here. ‘But I really want to go back and help my country. Working for a Dutch organisation would be perfect. Otherwise I’ll also move to Senegal some day, because my own country needs me more.’

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