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Left behind by migrant husbands, women break the rules and go to work

Ida Traoré with her husband, Abdoulaye Diarsso, who was visiting her for the first time in 13 years.

 

KOUTIA, Senegal — Years had passed since her husband had crossed the sea to look for work in Europe. Left behind, Khadijah Diagouraga trudged to the couple’s peanut fields alone every day, struggling to earn enough to provide for an extended family of 13.

When the town’s water pump broke and her faucet went dry, she tied a donkey to a cart to haul water from a nearby well, cursing her absent husband the whole way. Her action shocked this small, conservative village in rural Senegal. Guiding animals was men’s work, village leaders said.

“It’s not a sight I ever wanted to see,” said Baba Diallo, 70, sitting in the shade of a dried cornstalk canopy, shaking his head as if to rid himself of the memory.

Across West Africa, villages have been emptied of husbands and sons in their prime who set out for Europe to look for work and never returned. Women, realizing they might never see the money their men promised to send home, have gradually taken on what are seen as men’s roles, earning money and running large households of in-laws and other extended family members.

“There are a couple men who look down on me,” Ms. Diagouraga said. “I ignore them. What matters to me is hard work.”

Senegal is among the countries most affected by the phenomenon of missing men. Senegalese were among the top 10 nationalities to land in Italy during a spike in migration in the middle of the decade. Although migration to Europe has dropped sharply as nationalism has led some European countries to impose tighter controls, West African communities are still reeling, with many of their men gone now for years.

Some will never return, perishing while crossing the desert or drowning at sea. In Koutia and the few surrounding villages, at least 130 people have died in recent years on the journey, local officials said.

Many of Senegal’s migrants come from sun-bleached flatlands near Koutia in the east that rely almost entirely on peanuts and a handful of other crops for income, even as a yearslong drought shows no sign of letting up.

Many working-age men here have given up. The village chief of Koutia estimates that in little more than one generation, 200 men from the 95 households have migrated to Europe. Many were the family’s chief earners.

The lure of Europe is on display in Senegal’s villages. Amid the clusters of shabby mud-brick homes are houses made of cement, some two stories tall, painted and surrounded by cement walls. All were paid for with money sent home by migrants.

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Ms. Diagouraga and her husband used to pass those homes as they walked to their peanut fields. They saw the satellite dishes on rooftops and neighbors clutching iPhones. Then there was the shiny, tiled mosque with towering minaret, which the village chief bragged had been built with money pooled from local migrants. A few villagers could even afford cars.

Ms. Diagouraga’s husband, Mohamed Diawara, had bought a small automated mill to grind millet and corn to sell. But fuel for the device was expensive, and it was constantly breaking down. Farming was tough, too. Each harvest seemed smaller than the one before. Mr. Diawara had only one donkey to help him till the soil, while his neighbors had sophisticated plows.

Mr. Diawara had been saving to buy a new part for his mill, but told his wife he wanted to use the money instead to pay smugglers to take him to Italy.

She knew it was dangerous; three men from Koutia had died trying that same year. Stay and we’ll make it work, Ms. Diagouraga pleaded.

But we’ve been living hand-to-mouth all these years, he told her.

“He has a man’s heart,” Ms. Diagouraga said. “It was hard telling him not to go.”

Mr. Diawara left one morning five years ago, just as the call to prayer sounded. She pressed into his arms a blue-and-white blanket she had embroidered for him and spent the whole day crying.

Five months passed with no word.

“I wasn’t sure if he was alive,” Ms. Diagouraga said. “Maybe he lost his phone? I had heard stories of migrants being robbed. Maybe he died in prison? Or at sea?”

She was busy cooking the day he finally called. He was in Italy, he said, and had been through hell to get there. He didn’t give her details; the important thing was that he had made it.

Safy Diakhaby’s husband left for Europe when she became pregnant 11 years ago. She works hard to get by and shares her bounty with other women.

She thanked him for risking his life to help his family. It was four more months until he called again.

Communication between the couple became brief and infrequent. Finally, he sent money — the equivalent of $20. An entire year passed before he sent cash again.

Work in Europe is far from guaranteed for many migrants. Mr. Diawara said in a telephone interview that he was sharing a room with four other men and sometimes went days without eating. His salary working day jobs on a cleaning crew was too little. He couldn’t afford to go home.

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Ms. Diagouraga knew life was hard for him. But she was now supporting not only her own two children, but his family too: several nieces and nephews and Mr. Diawara’s ailing mother.

Left to her thoughts, Ms. Diagouraga sometimes got angry at her husband. What if he was cheating on her in Italy? She put the thought out of her mind. Sleeping alone in their double bed with its yellow bedspread and wooden headboard, she missed intimacy.

She had thought about leaving her husband. But she loved him. And how could she leave a man who was only trying to do better for his family?

READ ALSO: Almost 400 migrants relocated from Italy since September

Women in nearby villages in similar situations had divorced migrant husbands to find companions closer to home. In Magali, Ida Traoré, 32, became pregnant with twins while her husband was living in France.

Her father-in-law called France to tell his son, Abdoulaye Diarsso, that his wife was having an affair. Mr. Diarsso immediately phoned her, to apologize. He had been away 13 years, after all.

“She has sexual urges,” Mr. Diarsso said during his first visit with his wife since he’d left. “It’s difficult to accept, but if I ignore this, I’m not being honest.”

Some women are still subject to the rules of older men who step in while their sons are abroad. In the village of Niaouli Tanoun, where six men have left for Europe, their wives complained that one aging father-in-law had barred them from walking around freely, let alone earning money.

But elsewhere, women have united and prevailed. In Magali, wives of migrants garden together, sharing harvests and lending one another money. They are led by Safy Diakhaby, 28, whose husband left for Europe when she became pregnant 11 years ago.

She had urged him to go. He has sent home enough cash to build a concrete home, but not enough to support the 21 people in her compound.

She hired a crew of men to work the fields, and knowing that they might be reluctant to listen to a woman, she cooks lunch as an incentive. She stores peanuts to sell when the crop is out of season and scarce. She shares her bounty with other struggling women.

“If we don’t help each other, we all suffer,” Ms. Diakhaby said.

But many migrants’ wives have resorted to handouts, which is just what many male elders say they prefer. Habsatou Diallo lives down a winding dirt path in Koutia not far from Ms. Diagouraga. Her husband left for Europe six years ago without saying goodbye. She hasn’t heard from him since.

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The clay oven Ms. Diallo had used to bake bread to sell at the market fell apart without him to maintain it. She has no money anyway to buy flour. She depends on her father-in-law for handouts.

Ms. Diagouraga considered begging herself one day when she went to wash her clothes and realized she was out of laundry soap. She couldn’t afford more — let alone school fees for her children.

“Who could I even ask for help?” she said. “I was angry at everything. I thought it was best I just do things for myself.”

She decided to work harder. She hooked up the donkey to plow, and to haul water from the well. She started to earn a bit of cash from her harvest and set up a shop selling tea and sandwiches.

She heard hushed comments from onlookers. She saw them staring. Women should rely on charity, some of the men said. Others said she wasn’t strong enough. Some said they felt sorry for her.

Ms. Diagouraga recently fell ill and had to buy medicine with the money intended for tea-shop supplies. One afternoon when her 5-year-old daughter bounded in from school with a tuition bill, Ms. Diagouraga just stared at it. The bill was for less than a dollar, but still more than she could afford.

“I’ll go talk to your teacher and tell him to be patient,” she said.

And then she got to work, soaking beans for dinner and sweating as she ran behind a donkey, urging it to hoist pails of water from a deep well.

Some of the village’s few remaining young men were sprawled nearby in the shade. They lifted their heads to watch her on that baking afternoon.

“I pray God will help her see the fruits of her labor,” said Hamidou Diawara, 19.

They had been there for hours doing nothing, Mr. Diawara said, daydreaming about sailing to Europe.

(www-nytimes-com)

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Over 140 migrants perish in deadliest shipwreck of the year

A group of suspected migrants are brought to shore by Border Force officers at the Port of Dover in Kent after a number of small boat incidents in the Channel in September. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

At least 140 people have drowned after a vessel carrying around 200 migrants sank off the Senegalese coast, the deadliest shipwreck recorded in 2020.

According to media sources, the Senegalese and Spanish navies, and fishermen who were nearby, rescued 59 people and retrieved the remains of 20 others.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is deeply saddened by this recent tragedy, which follows four shipwrecks recorded in the Central Mediterranean last week and another in the English Channel.

“We call for unity between governments, partners and the international community to dismantle trafficking and smuggling networks that take advantage of desperate youth,” said Bakary Doumbia, IOM Senegal Chief of Mission.

“It is also important that we advocate for enhanced legal channels to undermine the traffickers’ business model and prevent loss of life.”

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Local community members told IOM the vessel left Mbour, a coastal town in western Senegal on Saturday (24/10) bound for the Canary Islands. The boat caught fire a few hours after departure and capsized near Saint-Louis, on Senegal’s northwest coast.

The Government of Senegal and IOM have arranged a mission to travel to Saint-Louis to assess the needs of survivors and provide immediate psychosocial assistance.

The number of departures from West Africa to the Canary Islands has significantly increased in recent weeks.

IOM Senegal has been monitoring departures from the coast with the assistance of members of the community since the beginning of September. In September alone, 14 boats carrying 663 migrants left Senegal for the Canary Islands. Of these departures, 26 per cent were reported to have experienced an incident or shipwreck.

IOM estimates there have been roughly 11,000 arrivals to the Canary Islands this year compared to 2,557 arrivals during the same period last year. This is still far below peaks seen in 2006 when over 32,000 people arrived.

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With this tragic shipwreck, at least 414 people are known to have died along this route in 2020 according to IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, which recorded 210 fatalities there in all of 2019.

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Displaced Yemen children at risk of the deadly impacts of severe food insecurity  

Migrants near Budapest

The latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) Acute Malnutrition analysis released today by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and other partners is extremely concerning. With limited access to food, humanitarian services and health care, displaced children in Yemen are at risk of the deadly impacts of severe food insecurity.

Around 26 per cent of the more than 156,000 people newly displaced this year, in the areas where the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has access, cited food as their main need. This is the second most cited need after shelter and housing, which 65 per cent of people reported as their main need. In areas where there are higher levels of displacement, like Al Hudaydah, Taizz, Al Dhale’e and Marib, higher levels of food needs have also been reported.

“Displaced Yemenis leave their homes with nothing and often find themselves seeking safety in locations where there are no job opportunities and barely enough services, including health care,” said Christa Rottensteiner, IOM Chief of Mission for Yemen.

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“This can leave vulnerable people without enough food to feed their families. Given that UN partners are reporting that acute malnutrition rates among children under five are the highest ever recorded in parts of Yemen, we are extremely worried about children in displaced families.”

The situation in Marib is particularly concerning given that an escalation in hostilities has displaced over 90,000 people to the city and caused a drastic shortage of services. Displaced people in Marib report food to be one of their most urgent needs. Of the displacement sites assessed by IOM in October, some reported that food shortages were a major concern for approximately 50 per cent of their residents.

In response to food insecurity, the emergency aid kits distributed under the Rapid Response Mechanism by IOM to newly displaced families include emergency food rations. IOM also carries out livelihood support activities for displaced communities to help them generate income. Most recently the Organization supported displaced women in making face masks which help their community combat the spread of COVID-19.

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IOM also operates a health centre in Al Jufainah Camp, Yemen’s largest displacement site, and multiple mobile health clinics. In addition to providing primary health care services to over 55 per cent of displaced people in Marib, IOM’s mobile health clinics provide community level access to malnutrition screening for children under the age of five and referral for treatment, in coordination with UNICEF. Given the high demand for such nutritional support, early intervention is vital to reducing avoidable morbidity and mortality among displaced children.

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Nigerians in Spain say no to genocide

Nigerians resident in Spain have kicked against bad governance and brutalitalisation of innocent citizens by security operatives in Nigeria.

They are in solidarity with the #Endsars protesters.

The #Endsars protest  started by young Nigerians to say no to brutality, impunity and gruesome killings in the hands of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the government in the country saw security operatives using live bullets on the protesters last week, October 21, 2020.

In a statement signed by Afolabi Oloko, the Nigerians in Spain said: “In every part  of the world, including Nigeria, we believe protesting is a fundamental right of all citizenry that we can exercise whenever we deem it fit as long as it is civil and devoid of violence but such is not the case in Nigeria where the young future of the country are murdered by their very own government just because they made demands that there must be a reform to the notorious Police department and that the country be reformed in general. Have they asked for too much from a responsible and responsive government?

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“It is so disheartening that after Ten days that the youth refused to back down they resorted to killing, maiming of their own future generations just because they asked and begged for good governance and good policing. It’s a shame that young people are being killed all around the cities of Nigeria from Lagos, Abeokuta, Ibadan, Abuja, Ondo , Benin, Porthacort just to mention a few. It was horrendous seeing over seventy people being murdered at night while still protesting unarmed peacefully in Lekki area of Lagos state. They organised by switching off the street light while they carried out their evil deed against defenceless young people of the country and also took away the CCTV. The commander-in-chief of the Armed forces in person of President Muhamodu Buhari must be tried at the International court for genocide against it’s own people.

“We the compatriots far away in Spain are with our young brothers and sister on the streets saying no to bad governance as you’re in our hearts and prayers. We support you in the just cause you’re are fighting. Fighting for one’s future should not be seen as an affront to the authorities, rather they should look inward and realise that the system is rotten and should be cleansed but not killing innocent young men on the streets with Army being deployed to take lives of vibrant and resourceful, frustrated and change hungry citizens.
“Today, we came out in multitude in solidarity with our compatriots back home to say #ENDSARS! #ENDBADGOVERNANCE #ENDPOLICEBRUTALITY #ENDCORUPTION #ENDTHEGENOCIDE”

READ  Uganda lifts COVID-19 closure admits refugees escaping escalating violence in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo

 

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