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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 June 2006, 13:31 GMT 14:31 UK
Fishing for a better future in Senegal
By Tidiane Sy
BBC News, Mbour

Mbour is a small Senegalese town not more than 100km away from where international delegates have been grappling with the issue of immigration at a conference in the capital, Dakar.

Mbour's vibrant harbour

The fishing harbour hit world headlines this year after young West Africans began using it in their hundreds as a launch pad to reach Europe by sea.

The area has not always been associated with illegal immigration.

It has long been a renowned tourist attraction because of its proximity to the resort of Saly, with its sandy beaches, warm temperatures and luxury hotels, and has for centuries relied on fishing.

Now the younger generation believe it has discovered a better and quicker way to find money.

Instead of spending weeks in the high seas looking for fish, a resource they say is becoming scarce, many young Mbourois would rather head to the Canary Islands, where more than 7,500 migrants have already landed this year in the hope of reaching mainland Spain.

Prison

The police say the phenomenon really took off early in May, but would-be migrants say this perilous route started to be used back in late 2005 or at least early 2006.

If I was given the possibility, I'll try again... even tomorrow
Would-be migrant

The first group were caught by police on 18 May after a tip-off.

"At the beach we found 21 people who we arrested, including the owner of the boat who was also the organiser of the trip," Mbour's Police Commissioner Modou Diagne explained.

None of the detainees was carrying a passport or any proper type of identification document, he said.

"More than 2m CFA francs ($3,900) was seized from the owner of the boat, who organised the trip."

He was sentenced to six months in prison; the others were sentenced to a month behind bars.

But neither these arrests nor attempts by Spanish authorities to stop the flow of migrants - or even the hundreds of people who have died on the perilous crossing -will deter the young men.

The crackdown has just made those intending to travel more discreet about their plans - but not about their desire to go to Europe.

Ship wreck

Earlier this year, a man in his early 30s, who asked not to be identified for fear of arrest, attempted that crossing.

Mother of would-be migrant Assane Sow
He decided voluntarily to take the risk and go and we agreed
Diatou Sene
Mother of a would-be migrant

He and his 32 fellow travellers failed and spent four days in the sea after their boat was wrecked.

"We made it back to Mbour, thank God - and because we are all fisherman and know the sea," he said, adding that the experience had left him more determined than ever.

"If I was given the possibility, I'll try again... even tomorrow. You tell me: 'Here's a boat ready to sail,' and I'll embark on it."

Thirty-one-year-old Assane Sow was less lucky. He was among those arrested by police in May while trying to embark on the journey.

His family are not angry with him, they blame the government for not providing jobs and for not respecting the right of people to go in search of employment elsewhere.

"He committed no crime. He is a carpenter but it does not pay," says Assane's mother Diatou Sene, who is waiting anxiously for his return from prison.

"Everyone was saying if you go to Spain, there's money and there's work... all his friends were going. He decided voluntarily to take the risk and go and we agreed."

Like Assane, many young people I spoke to were prepared to leave their families in order to help them in the long run.

Pape Faye, a footballer I found at Mbour's stadium, is dreaming of continuing his career in Europe one day.

He is desperate to help his ageing parents and already has one friend in Europe.

"The only way left for me is to leave this country," he says.

Exodus

The local authorities admit there is a serious problem, but claim they are doing what they can at their level.

The youth need a lot of jobs - well-paying jobs - to remain here
Local councillor Magette Diop

"We have experienced a serious exodus, especially of the youngest people, far before this migration by sea phenomenon appeared," Magette Diop from the local council.

He said a fund set up to increase employment among young people and women had funded 1,200 projects so far.

Nevertheless, for Mr Diop, it remains the government's responsibility to create jobs for the youth.

"All we can do at the municipal level is to help with small projects. The youth should also be imaginative. It's truly a real problem, and they need a lot of jobs - well-paying jobs - to remain here."

The Dakar conference, which brought together about 30 African and 30 European nations, hopes its joint action plan will tackle the crisis through development to encourage young Africans to stay at home.

But their plan is to be formally adopted at a conference on migration in Morocco next month, and many in Mbour are not willing to wait.

They will take encouragement from the words of Senegal's Interior Minister Ousmane Ngom, who said this week that immigration is unstoppable as it "remains an engine of history".




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