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Citizenship and Irregular Migration | Senegal |

Senegal Background Information Historical Trends Political Development Emigrant Population Citizenship / Irregular Migration Refuge and Asylum Current Developments References

Citizenship and Irregular Migration

Felix Gerdes

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Citizenship in Senegal is regulated by Law No. 61-70. Since coming into effect on the 7th March 1961, it has been amended on numerous occasions. Senegal recognises four principles for the acquisition of citizenship: descent, a woman's marriage, residence and presidential decree.

Providing they do not refuse it, female foreigners who marry a Senegalese man are automatically granted Senegalese citizenship. If a foreign man marries a Senegalese woman, he can apply for and become naturalised after five years' residence in the country. Otherwise candidates for naturalisation must have made Senegal their primary residence for at least ten years. Naturalised Senegalese, however, have to accept serious restrictions to their civil rights for the first ten years after acquiring citizenship. During this time, naturalised persons may not put themselves forward for election to any political office, may not assume a ministerial office, and may not be employed in the civil service. Moreover, such persons are barred from practising a range of professions. These regulations were tightened in 1984 and 1989. In addition, the naturalisation process is restrictive. In 30 years only 592 persons have applied for and been granted citizenship. It is worth noting that these cases appear to have concerned primarily French and Lebanese persons, who tend to be in a stronger financial position.

For a long time Senegal did not recognise dual citizenship, although in official practice this is no longer the case. Difficulties occur particularly when the second state does not tolerate dual citizenship. For migrants of Senegalese origin with German citizenship, for example, this means that there are increased problems in building an economic existence in Senegal.

Irregular Migration

Migration from Senegal can mostly be classified as "irregular migration", although only a small proportion of migrants enter Europe illegally. By far the biggest proportion are allowed entry on the basis of a business or tourist visa, and only become irregular migrants when they exceed the determined maximum stay. This form of migration is relatively expensive: on top of flight costs of approximately EUR 900 Euro come, for example, security payments of about EUR 1 500 to obtain a business visa. If the migrant is refused the visa, there is the option of asking an intermediary to obtain one. This then raises the costs of the trip to more than EUR 5 000.

As a result of these expenses, various other migration routes have developed. Migrants who use the overland route often earn the money to fund the trip by working along the way. Two important routes run straight across the Sahara. In the early 2000s, about 80% of the then 65 000 to 80 000 trans-Saharan migrants used the east route via Agadez (Niger) on the Libyan Mediterranean coast. From here, small fishing boats (pateras) made the crossing to Italy, particularly to the island of Lampedusa. The alternative west route runs from Agadez via northwestern Algeria to northern Morocco. Since about 2000, reinforced border controls have made the sea route from there to Spain less viable. Accordingly, the number of (attempted) border crossings into the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla increased. In September 2005, several thousand migrants attempted to get over the border fences, resulting in 14 deaths. Migration routes then shifted to the Moroccan Atlantic coast, with migrants being ferried over to the Canary Islands from there. As a result of more intensive border controls, boats increasingly set off from places further south. First the Mauritanian coast and then that of Senegal became an important point of departure for migration to Europe. Some journeys now start as far south as Guinea-Bissau.

In 2006 tens of thousands of migrants attempted to reach the Canary Islands; a large number of the crossings were carried out by Senegalese fishermen. In the course of the year approximately 32 000 migrants reached the group of islands, compared to only 4 800 the year before. A crossing on this highly perilous route costs on average EUR 620. In 2006, the bodies of 1 167 drowned migrants were taken from the sea , and several thousand others were deemed missing. Approximately 50% of the migrants using this route were believed to be Senegalese.

The proportion of Senegalese living in Europe without legal residence status can scarcely be estimated; however, a large number, obtain a legal status in the medium term. By concealing their origin at first, they often avoid fast deportation, as it is impossible to identify a country to receive the deportee. An alternative is to lead an irregular existence in the narrower sense, i.e. without registering with the authorities. One widespread way to obtain legal residence status is to marry a European woman (the proportion of Senegalese women involved in irregular migration is marginal). But migrants throughout Europe have also been able to benefit from regularisation programmes in Italy (1990 and 1994) and Spain (700 000 legalisations in 2004/05). In 2006, Italy set a regularisation quota 517 000 for that year. Once regularised, it is possible to obtain a "Schengen" visa for travel to other EU countries. This facilitates the high mobility of the Senegalese population in Europe, which often serves the seasonal requirements of the European labour market.

Senegalese migrants in Europe

ItalyFrance SpainGermany
Total (estimated)65.000-75.000***60.000****No information2.500-4.000**

*OECD (2006): International Migration Outlook: Annual report. Paris; Figures for Spain refer to "foreign labour"; all other data refer to "foreignborn" persons. As Spain has only recently become an important destination for Senegalese migrants, the use of these different statistical categories is unlikely to make a big difference for the purpose of this comparison. ** Marfaing (2003); ***Author's calculation based on statistics from Fall (2003); ****Diatta and Mbow (1999)



  1. See Fall (2003).

  2. Details of a corresponding change in the law could not be ascertained. According to information provided by telephone by the Senegalese embassy in Berlin on 25.06.2007, dual citizenships are recognised in Senegal. Cf. Marfaing (2003).

  3. See the interview with P. D. Tall in: Organisation internationale pour les migrations (2007): Senegal-Migrations, Bulletin d´Information No. 4, p. 2.

  4. See BBC (2007).

  5. See Organisation internationale pour les migrations (2007) : Senegal-Migrations, Bulletin d'Information, No. 2 : p. 5. A few years ago the prices were significantly higher at EUR 875-1 500 (Marfaing 2005).

  6. These figures are provided by the Spanish human rights organisation Associación pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía (Externer Link: ).

  7. See Jahnson (2006).

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