Senegal, Spain leaders seek to encourage legal migration

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Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez speaks during a press conference at the Palace of the Republic in Dakar, Senegal, Friday, April 9 2021 after his meeting with Senegalese President Macky Sall. Sanchez is on a mini-tour to two African nations that are key in the European country's new push to bolster ties with the neighboring continent and mitigate the migration flows that many fear could increase as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic.(Seyllou/Pool Photo via AP)

DAKAR – Senegal and Spain signed a memorandum of understanding on Friday to discourage illegal migration that has been increasing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Spain wants to order migratory flows through legal channels,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said after meeting with Senegal’s President Macky Sall while visiting the West African coastal nation.

More than 41,000 people from Morocco and West Africa crossed to Spain in 2020, and more than half of them did it by embarking on flimsy boats to the Canary Islands, the Spanish archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, off the northwestern African coast. Hundreds died last year after embarking on the deadly water route.

Spanish authorities are holding thousands of migrants, including potential asylum seekers, in camps set up on the islands, hoping to return as many of them to their home countries either voluntarily or through agreements with African governments. Part of that solution is to resume flights of forced returns to Senegal, a program that has been halted since 2018.

While the president did not mention a resumption of flights or the return of illegal Senegalese migrants, he did discuss the memorandum of understanding that would see seasonal migration trips to Spain.

“We can organize seasonal departures since Spain needs manpower,” Sall said. “We are working with the Spanish government so that those who have to return will be given priority.”

More than 71,000 Senegalese live and work in Spain, according to the two leaders.

“The solution for Africa is not to see children die in the ocean,” he said.