Author: Badara Ndiaye, Migrafrique*

This working paper assesses the EU’s cooperation with Senegal on migration and finds that a focus on fighting irregular migration and facilitating returns has been paired with an excessively restrictive visa policy towards Senegalese nationals. The paper argues that the EU’s push for reinforcing border controls undermines the freedom of movement in the whole subregion and reverses the progress made in economic integration within ECOWAS. It recommends the opening of legal migration channels in combination with labour market access and the adoption of legislative measures to protect the right of migrant workers and undermine trafficking.

The paper starts with a statistical overview of migration in Senegal, noting that 58% of migrants in Senegal originate from the neighbouring countries Guinea-Conakry, The Gambia and Mali and that the large majority of international migrants travel within Africa.  The restriction of legal pathways of migration, limited access to labour markets, and accelerations of borders closure in Europe have led to thousands of young Senegalese risking their lives in dangerous journeys towards Europe, which has turned the Sahara and the Mediterranean into a graveyard.

The years 2015-16 mark a turning point of EU cooperation with Senegal bringing “the fight against irregular migration” and returns to the forefront. The Rabat Process and the 2015 Valetta Action Plan became the main instruments of implementing the EU’s agenda and Senegal became a major beneficiary of the EU Emergency Trust Fund (EUTF).

Restrictive visa policy enacted by France, Spain and Italy, the main destination countries for Senegalese, hamper labour migration as well as student mobility and family reunification. The same EU Member States  have also pushed EU visa policy to another level, taking shape in increased visa fees from February 2020 and a mechanism that will tie the availability of visas to a country’s cooperation on readmission of its nationals.

EU influence on Senegal’s policies related to asylum and migration  manifests itself in the surveillance of Senegal’s coastal area and in the sheer volume of financial contributions on/related tomigration in Senegal, particularly those attributed to the management of return.  The EU’s push for reinforcing border controls also undermines freedom of movement as a central pillar of development for the whole subregion and presents a reversal of progress made in economic integration under ECOWAS and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

The EU influences Senegalese migration politics primarily via development cooperation, which channels the majority of migration-related funding and reaches from high-level dialogue like the Rabat Process to initiatives with civil society. On the conceptual level, the paper notes that the influence of the EU’s agenda s illustrated by the  quasi-generalisation of the category “ potential migrant” which supposes that any person who is young and unemployed plans to emigrate to Europe,.

Among a range of recommendations, the paper underlines the importance of opening legal migration channels such as visa liberalisation. While local employment is key to urban and rural development in Senegal, it will not make people less likely to migrate within or outside of Africa. Legal migration channels should be linked to a transnational politics of opening up labour markets via partnerships across multiple countries and continents not only geared towards Europe. Partnering with civil society in a way that promotes collaboration rather than just subcontracting is crucial for a sustainable way forward in this area.  The paper also recommends the ratification of the ILO’s Domestic Workers Convention and a law regulating private employment agencies in Senegal to tackle trafficking.


* Badara Ndiaye is Director of the association DIADEM (Diaspora Development Education Migration) and the West African Platform of the civil society organisation MIGRAFRIQUE.  His thematic focus is mobility and development in relation to protection and labour migration. Before taking up this role he worked for the ECOWAS Commission as the Regional Technical Advisor of the Intra ACP Facility for Migration. Previously, he worked as national project coordination of the International Labour Office (ILO) on migration governance in Senegal and for the NGO Enda Third World. Badara Ndiaye holds a degree in English Language and Pedagogy from Cheikh Anta Diop University in Senegal and diplomas from the National Institute for educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA) in New Delhi as well as the  International Institute for Educational Planning in Paris.


This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin . You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.