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Who wins from Senegal's Spanish job lottery?

By Will Ross
BBC West Africa Correspondent, Dakar, Senegal

Sitting on the beach in Dakar's Thiaroye Sur Mer suburb, Cheikh Faye recalls the storm which ended one of his three failed attempts to reach Europe.

African migrants in fishing boat
Fewer Senegalese now risk their lives in boats like these

"Both engines stopped working and then we ran out of food and water. There were 80 of us in the boat but after five days people fell sick and started vomiting."

"About half of them died in the boat and we had to throw them overboard. Even my younger brother died in my arms - I had to throw him overboard too," Mr Faye says.

The survivors were rescued by a Mauritanian fishing boat, which took them where they did not want to go - back home.

Sea patrols have made it much harder for illegal immigrants to reach Europe in the rickety fishing boats.

Just 8,000 made it to the Canary Islands last year, compared to 31,000 in 2006.

While the daring, treacherous trips have slowed, if not ended, Spain is hoping the offer of legal jobs for young Senegalese will further reduce the illegal influx.

Lifeline

Aliou Tchiam, 35, returned to Dakar in March from a nine-month contract picking apples and pears in the Spanish region of Catalonia.

I can't risk my life at sea. I'm the eldest son so I can't risk dying and leaving my younger brothers in trouble
Ousman Pathe Diao, Senegalese electrician

"If I worked every day of the month I could earn around 600,000 CFA ($1,400) and I managed to send back two-thirds of the money to my family," he says.

He is heading back to Spain shortly for a second contract - and is grateful for the lifeline after failing to find work in Senegal for five years.

Welcome to the great Spanish job lottery.

"When the Spanish minister announced the programme we were inundated. During the first 15 days, more than 10,000 people came to fill the forms," recalls Daba Thiaw, director of the Senegalese government's Youth Employment Centre, where computer boxes full of application forms are piled up.

Disappeared

Since the beginning of last year around 1,400 people have been given contracts of between four and 12 months in Spain, picking fruit, cleaning hotels and working in hotel kitchens.

But once in the country, it has not always been easy getting them back home at the end of the contracts.

map

One-third of the workers from the first group disappeared, becoming illegal immigrants.

The government says the return rate has since improved as people have started to understand that the whole programme is dependent on the honouring of contracts.

Waiting to add his name to the ever growing list of job-seekers, electrician Ousman Pathe Diao is hoping for a contract.

"I am qualified and I am ready to work. I've been looking for a job in Senegal but haven't found anything," he says, clutching a folder full off his diploma certificates.

Despite his frustration, Mr Diao is not about to jump into a fishing boat if he fails to get the call from the Youth Employment Agency.

"No, No, No, I can't risk my life at sea. I'm the eldest son so I can't risk dying and leaving my younger brothers in trouble."

Corruption

I pull out one of the forms from a computer box.

It was filled in by Moussa Bah, a 35-year-old farmer from Touba, who has a diploma in Arabic.

But will he ever make it out of the box and onto the plane to Spain?

We need jobs here. The Senegalese government should build factories here in Senegal and help the farmers too.
Cheikh Faye

"Yes, if the Spanish ask for more farmers then he will have a chance. Why not?" Mrs Thiaw says as she returns his form to the box, assuring me that everyone has already been entered onto a database.

When Spain requested 744 female strawberry pickers, the recruiting was done in all 11 regions of Senegal supervised by the governors.

However there have been some accusations of corruption and favouritism during the selection process.

"He has just chosen his relatives and friends," is a common suggestion from those left struggling to make ends meet in Senegal.

Fish factories

On the beach in Thiaroye Sur Mer, fishermen are fixing their wooden boats, unsure if they will be full of fish - or young desperate immigrants.

Cheikh Faye tells me he is not impressed with the Spanish programme because right in front of him on the beach he sees a growing crisis.

"The fishing industry here is ruined because the government signed fishing contracts with EU countries and they come with their trawlers. That's why the fishermen struggle."

"We need jobs here. The Senegalese government should build factories here in Senegal and help the farmers too. Those contracts help the Europeans but not the Senegalese," he tells me.

While the Europeans are accused of destroying fish stocks in Africa, it seems incongruous that hundreds of the jobs on offer in Spain are in the fishing industry.

As for Mr Faye, he has given up on the hazardous sea crossings and he is not bothered about applying to go to Spain either.

He has used his own initiative.

Non-governmental-organisations seem to be where the money goes in Africa and so he has now formed one and declared himself: "The President of the Repatriated Senegalese Immigrants".

As he demands a few francs for the interview and heads off to a meeting which will no doubt soon be called a "capacity building workshop", it seems he has made a pretty smart move.


SEE ALSO
Spain begins anti-migration ads
20 Sep 07 |  Africa
Country profile: Senegal
25 Jun 08 |  Country profiles


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