Young Men in Senegal Join Migrant Wave Despite Growing Prosperity at Home

Allure of Wealth Drives Deadly Trek

Young Men in Senegal Join Migrant Wave Despite Growing Prosperity at Home

A young man in Kothiary, Senegal, looks at Facebook on a smartphone sent from his father, who lives in France. MACKENZIE KNOWLES-COURSIN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

KOTHIARY, Senegal—Less than a month after mourning a neighbor killed on the 3,000-mile migrant trail to Europe, Ibrahima Ba set off on the same treacherous road.

The 27-year-old was supposed to build a future in this stable corner of rural Africa, using money sent from his father in France to raise bulls and sell diesel fuel. But in March, as chaos in Libya eased a pathway to the Mediterranean, Mr. Ba gambled he could make a better life, selling the cattle to buy a ticket along the world’s deadliest migrant route and joining the largest global migration wave since World War II.

Ibrahima Ba, in a family photo, is believed to have drowned in April alongside 700 migrants when their boat sank in the Mediterranean. His mother said, ‘He wanted to have his own means.’
Ibrahima Ba, in a family photo, is believed to have drowned in April alongside 700 migrants when their boat sank in the Mediterranean. His mother said, ‘He wanted to have his own means.’ PHOTO:DREW HINSHAW/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

In April, Mr. Ba’s family mourned him, too: they believe he drowned alongside 700 migrants aboard a trawler that tipped into the sea, the worst in a series of tragedies that shocked Europe and triggered frantic diplomacy to rethink European immigration laws.

At least 1,840 have died on the crossing from Libya to Italy so far this year, following 3,200 known deaths last year, the International Organization for Migration says.

“He didn’t lack for anything, he had everything he needed,” said Mr. Ba’s mother, Awa Diop. “But he wanted to have his own means.”

Mr. Ba represents a puzzling segment of the migrant population: Unlike those fleeing war, famine or economic desperation, this group is risking rising living standards to brave banditry, starvation and stormy seas to make a better life in Europe.

Officials here say five men from this village of several thousand—which in recent years has welcomed smartphones, laptops and satellite television—are known to have perished this year. More are missing, their fate unknown. Another man leaves every week, officials say.

Senegal is a stable West African democracy, and Kothiary has profited from the currents of globalization transforming rural Africa’s more prosperous areas. Flat screen TVs and, increasingly, cars—mostly purchased with money wired home by villagers working in Europe—have reshaped what was once a settlement of mud huts. The wealth has plugged this isolated landscape of peanut farms and baobab trees into the global economy and won respect for the men who sent it.

But it has also put European living standards on real-time display, and handed young farm hands the cash to buy a ticket out.

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