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Europe's downturn deters African migration

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Europe's downturn deters African migration

Post  Admin on Fri Sep 05, 2008 7:20 pm

DAKAR, Senegal - Europe's economic downturn is deterring would-be migrants in Africa from making the often perilous journey to the continent in search of work, migration experts said.

Thousands of illegal migrants from Senegal, Mali, Ghana and other West African states attempt to enter Europe every year, drawn by dreams of riches far exceeding those available in their own poverty-stricken countries.

But as work dries up in Europe they are returning to warn others that they may be better off staying in Africa, experts at a migration conference in Dakar told Reuters late on Thursday.

"We are just at the beginning of seeing the effect of the economic downturn," said Maria Teresa Rojas, Deputy Director of the Open Society Institute, a research group funded by billionaire investor George Soros.

Speaking on the same day that Spain, which receives more West African job-seekers than any other EU country, said it will stop issuing visas to most migrant workers because of a jobs crunch, Rojas said prospects for migrants were getting worse.

"Migrants are finding work opportunities very limited, and that in the long run their financial situation is not any better than if they'd stayed here," Rojas told the conference.

Many found jobs on building sites while Spain's construction industry boomed, but now construction has slowed and foremen are no longer hiring laborers as spending falls off across Europe.

Africans thinking about migration are swayed powerfully by first-hand testimony from those who have been to Europe and returned, said Cheikh Oumar Ba, a sociologist with the Center for Research on Social Policies in Senegal.

Until now, their stories encouraged others to make the trip.

"Not only do they not explain the often difficult conditions in which they live, but once back home, they use quite ostentatiously the money they earned with such hardship in the West," he said in a study presented to delegates.

Changing stories
More than 31,000 illegal migrants, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, landed in Spain's Canary Islands during 2006 after surviving a hazardous land and sea journey which frequently kills many travelers, the report said.

When migrants return to Africa, they are feted for their wealth. "They marry the most beautiful girls in the village, build houses which resemble castles, cover their relatives and friends with gifts," Ba's study said.

But the tales of prosperity won in Europe are now changing as a stagnating European continent holds fewer opportunities for foreign workers whose usually low skills level means they cannot easily find work outside the building and service sectors.

"More and more people are coming back with harsh stories," Rojas said. "Stories like that are very important, because if you come back and say 'it's not as good as we expected' it may be a very big factor in influencing others."

Immigrants are also encountering more hostility.

"It is definitely true that when an economy goes down, migrants become a political target," said Naomi Onaga, International Coordinator with Geneva-based Migrants Rights International. She said France and Italy were particular examples of countries where immigrants were getting the blame.

"Often migrants are used as scapegoats, it's a political opportunity for right-wing groups who try to get support by ... blaming problems on migrants," she said.

Still, even a Europe that may be heading for recession will still look attractive to some Africans who believe their chances of succeeding financially are even more limited at home.

For the 200,000 young Senegalese who become eligible for work every year, there are only 20,000 jobs in Senegal, said Ba, quoting a study he recently completed for the World Bank.

"The attitude even in the remotest villages is, 'here in Africa is poverty, in Europe is paradise'," he said.


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