Mme Nelly Robin
Institute of Development Research

NRobinMme Nelly Robin is a researcher of the Institute of Development Research, and a specialist on international migration. She has published an atlas of West African migration to Europe. Here she gives a particularly strong instance of the way in which certain persons become involved in a process of migration in the search for a better life, with all its consequences for personal and social destabilization. Christian and monastic communities are called to face up to such realities and react accordingly.

West Africa forms one of the great geographical components of the African continent.[1] A number of movements criss-cross this area and create a dynamic of regionalisation in multiple webs which contribute to the global pattern of contemporary migration without losing their local roots. Globalisation has not just one form, and does not wipe out regionalisation; on the contrary, they are both developing together by means of roads, temporary stoppingplaces, new practices and new actors.

In the world as a whole the total number of international migrants has increased in the last ten years from 150 million persons in 2000 to 214 million today.[2] In other words, one person in 33 in the world is a migrant. Nevertheless, the percentage of the number of migrants to the world population has remained relatively stable, rising by 0.2% (from 2.9 to 3.1%) in the last decade. For Africa two factors must be underlined. Africans do not migrate much outside their continent (17%), and Europe remains their principal destination outside Africa. For 11 out of 15 West African countries more than 50% of migrants who leave the country are on the African continent. Cap-Vert and Liberia are the two countries which have the highest number of migrants leaving the country to go outside Africa, in Europe and the United States respectively. Apart from this, refugees themselves migrate little outside Africa.{3] This datum reminds us that the inhabitants of the poorest countries are the least mobile: according to the United Nations Programme for Development (PNUD) the median figure for emigration in a less developed country is below 4%, as opposed to 8% in developed countries.[4]

West Africa is the primary region of reception for migrations in Africa; it brings together 44% of the international migrants of the continent.[5] The Ivory Coast and Ghana are two of the three African countries which have the greatest number of international migrants.[6] In addition West African migrations are far more numerous within the region than elsewhere. According to calculations based on population census, the region hosts 8.4 million migrants, mostly (86%) drawn from other West African countries, that is, 3% of the population of the region. This datum, increased since 1990, is above the African average (2%) and well above that of the European Union (0.5%).[7]

In this context West Africa has in recent years again become a danger. Its geographical situation gives it an essential role in the contemporary dynamic of migrations, joining up the African regions from the Congo to Morocco via the Niger, Mali or Senegal, people from West Africa or more distant regions like the Middle East or Asia, and traditional migratory systems and others more recent, notably those linked to the trafficking of migrants and the sex-slavetrade. Thus, since the beginning of the 21st century the West African migratory field is changing: formerly it revolved round coastal areas, while today it revolves round the Sahara frontier and urban conurbations like Bamako or Dakar which are integrated into world networks. The new migratory patterns of West Africa show a firm relationship to human migration: human beings are inseparable from migration and vice versa; individually and collectively they constitute migration, and, by its skills and its modalities migration forms the picture of the migrant. One of the most recent phenomena in West Africa is that of lone minors on the roads of international migration.

This mobility of young girls is an essential part of the dynamic of the region,[8] and shows the extent to which the territories of migration transcend those of the State, and consequently how fragile is the frontier which separates migrants from victims of the slave-trade, nationals from foreigners, legal and clandestine migrants. Such porousness of space and status facilitates migration, makes movement more fluid, but also creates a vulnerability which can transform the whole of migration.

We have chosen to consider the migration of young girls in order to analyse the strategies of those concerned, and to understand the logic and the risks of their mobility in West Africa. Their migratory trajectory and the practices associated with it are in many respects comparable to those of boys and adults, and to this extent representative of the migrations and movements both internal and international which characterize the area of West Africa. Our reflections are based on biographies and stories of young female Subsaharan migrants, collected in Mali, Niger, or Senegal in 2009 and 2010. This collection of life-histories aims to give the young girls a voice in order to analyse the reading of the phenomenon of migration which they make up, and their mobility. The spatial movements of these young girls are highly diverse. In order to analyse them we must define their trajectory, the areas covered, and the practices associated with it. By ‘practices’ we here understand the concrete way of executing the migration, in other words, these are voluntary acts done by the girls to achieve their migratory project. So it is a matter of their ability to adapt to concrete situations and to make use of the means required for their migration. These practices involve the transformation of risks into opportunities, changing the possible breaks into continuities and thus contributions to the experience of migration, individual or collective. This ensemble of coordinated actions in a spatial dynamic defines the strategy for migration undertaken by the girls, comparable in many ways to those of boy or adult migrants.

1. Reasons and places of movement

The variety of causes on which the migrations are based leads to a multiplicity of reasons for moving and of the places which structure them.

bateaux1.1. Reasons for migration, independent or correlated

At first sight there are four reasons for migration. These are linked to economic migration, enslavement of children for sexual exploitation, forced migration in consequence of armed conflict and migration as a response to violence done to women (forced marriages). Each example given here is representative of a process, but the itineraries covered are various.

Economic migration

This is the economic migration of young girls in search of work to improve their conditions of life and those of their families.

The first example is that of a young Nigerian girl, leaving Ondo (Nigeria) to look for work in Benin City (Nigeria). Her move is an internal migration, comparable to those of young people from Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali or Senegal who emigrate also to the great urban centres of their countries. Others choose the capital of a neighbouring country: young people from Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Guinea choose Bamako (Mali) or Dakar (Senegal), and thus effect an international migration. The choice of destination is above all determined by the availability of lodging with a known person, member of the extended family or the community of origin.

By the migration they find new opportunities. Some decide to move on further, a sort of re-emigration, with the same purpose but making use of different resources. ‘It was at Benin City that a fellow-countryman explained to me and gave me a contact in Nigeria which could help me to enter Europe and also help my grand-parents,’ explained a young Nigerian girl. In the course of their journey, alone or abandoned by a companion, they become even more vulnerable. Unforeseen obstacles and dangers arise. At some stage prostitution sometimes provides a solution for obtaining travel documents. They run the risk of being recruited by a ‘boyfriend’, a member of a slave-network. Some consent willingly in order to make progress, with the secret hope of being set free once they have paid off their debt in Europe; others are enrolled against their will. Such an evolution constitutes a change of scale and a modification of the migratory practice. Internal migration, based on family ties, is followed by a transnational move between the states of the CEDEAO, organised and controlled by a criminal gang. In this way migration for work, a planned and voluntary move, becomes a forced migration, with or without consent, for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

Enslavement for sexual exploitation

The sex-slavetrade has its own logic. The places involved are spatially continuous and interact according to the function which is given to them by the criminal organisation. The itineraries taken by the migrants underline the plurality of routes and the variety of function of the places: girls from Central Africa, principally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, are scattered all over West Africa, and are liable to be exploited at any stage of their journey to gain travel documents, meet a contact or receive instructions from a ‘patron’. In the same places West African girls[9] can be recruited and/or forced into prostitution. The structure of such a group is constant: a man charged with controlling the girls and making useful contacts for transport and lodging, and one or more women whose mission is to ‘initiate’ four or five girls aged about 15 to 17.[10] The legal situation in Senegal therefore commonly presents situations involving a Nigerian man, Congolese or Nigerian women and girls from Congo, Gambia, Guinea or the Ivory Coast. Most of them are interrogated by the special force at the airport of Dakar about clandestine prostitution[11] and false administrative documents. Before organising their transfer to Spain or Italy the criminal gangs exploit them in the villas of the suburbs of Dakar. On the regional scale these slave networks run a transnational migratory service between the member states of the CEEAC (Economic Community of the States of Central Africa) and those of CEDEAO. This migratory system constitutes one of the lines of a worldwide system connecting Asia, Africa and Europe, and uses West Africa as a transit-point. These situations may also be called West African ‘merchandising of migratory territories.’[12]

Forced migration as a result of armed conflict

The young girls whose migration results from the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo also use the territory of certain member states of CEDEAO as a transit-space. Their aim is to reach Europe and obtain the status of asylum-seeker or refugee. ‘Because of the war my father wanted me to get to Europe. We had no means and no possibility of getting a visa, so I came to Bamako by plane – there is a route which passes through Morocco’, explained a young Congolese girl whom I met in Mali. After ‘five months in Bamako to get a bit of hair’ she ‘went on the road with a couple of Congolese’. These transnational travels depend on community know-how, put to use in evading European frontier controls.

Migration as a response to violence done to women

For young girls migration is also a means of emancipation and of escaping a forced marriage. The decision to leave is taken alone or with a sister or friend in haste and fear. It is a question of finding shelter wherever it may be. In such a case the aim is less to achieve something positive than to escape a tricky situation. The migration is then a sort of adventure and quickly turns into a wandering trail from one West African capital to another in the search for possible protection and resources for survival.

Thus each of the reasons for mobility here explained has its own dynamic, though this does not exclude a combination of interacting factors. For young girls economic migration precedes travelling for slavery or forced movement. Migration over a short distance turns into transnational travel by a change of scale both temporal and spatial. In order to understand the stakes, difficulties and paradoxes of mobility not only for young girls but also for all migrants in West Africa, this is the reality into which one must enter.

1.2. Multifunctionality of Places

If reasons for mobility define the field of West African migration, places and function provide its structure.

In this connection Bamako provides a beacon. Young girls immigrate there in search for employment, pass by there to escape European frontier controls, are transferred or recruited there by slave-networks. So Rokiyata, a young girl from the Ivory Coast who immigrated to Bamako, there re-defined her project of migration. Tired of the domestic work she was doing for a derisory salary, she allowed herself to be seduced by a ‘boyfriend’ who promised her a better future in Europe, and induced her to prostitute herself to get a Mali passport. Or Beatrice, escaping from the war in the Congo, passed by Bamako to get to Europe without a visa via Morocco. Similarly Magloire, Jocy or John, recruited in Kinshasa, Benin City or Banjul, travelled under the control of a criminal gang who destined them for the European prostitute market: a contact was waiting for them at Bamako to hand them over to a network of illicit traffic of migrants, charged with transporting them by air, sea or land. Another case: Aminata and her sister fled a forced marriage arranged by their father and sought refuge at Dakar without getting the protection they hoped for. Hearing of the possibility of emigrating to Europe where they might achieve victim status, they got to Bamako, where they ‘hired’ the services of a network for the illicit traffic of migrants, and changed their route towards Mauretania.

The migratory field of girls is, then, multiple. It consists of different migratory systems, correlated or not, which spread over different scales, national, regional or international. These vary according to the methods practised by the migratory project. The migratory field of young girls, victims of the sex-slavetrade, recruited in their place of origin, embraces the form of a criminal network spread over Central and Northern Africa. That of young economic migrants develops according to the opportunities, chosen or undergone, and works on national and regional scales. One and the other run side by side and sometimes interact. Thus the girls rely sometimes on migratory know-how, sometimes on travel know-how. The migratory know-how of a family or a community may precede the travel know-how constructed by individuals or by a criminal gang. They emigrate with the migratory knowhow of their community but make the experience of travel know-how all on their own. Their movement oscillates between solidarity and criminality, between autonomy and constraint, between chance and mischance.

Such contingencies occur in places known as sites where the practices of the agents (migrants, compatriots or friends, criminal gangs) are known to exist. This is where the ‘function and articulation of the flow and logic of migration’[13] occur, that is, where the relationships tie up and untie between the different systems of migration. The young girls work on different scales according to the objective and movement of their travelling. The place has a strategic function: whatever happens there determines other factors and gives direction to the movement of the girls. In this context the place has many different resonances: it can be, simultaneously or successively, a synonym for danger or for resource, of blockage or opportunity, breakdown or progress.

Thus in West Africa Bamako seems to be a crossroads, essential for the mobility of young girls. At the same time it is a place of immigration, emigration and transit, with many functions. For some a focus of employment, for others a strategic position for evading European frontier controls, a recruitment site for networks of illegal traffic of migrants or a staging-post in the web of the slave-trade, Bamako provides a spatial link between places of mobility on the regional scale and in prospect of the scale of migration from Africa to Europe. Young girls, like other migrants, settle there, take refuge there, pass by there, work out or renegotiate their plan for migration and can be sexually exploited there as long as they are in transit there.

On other routes, upstream or downstream, Benin City, Abuja and Dakar offer the same multifunctional role, but in the last analysis have a less strategic position. At another stage of the journey migrant traffic can be found in Zinder, Gao or Nuadhibu; they are stopping-places of every kind: there migrants meet up with a contact or a ‘friend’ or compatriots, repair their finances, wait for a visa, look for transport or are discovered and enrolled in the networks of sex-slavery. So from one place to another migrants have varied experience of space, ‘a space which is not offered beforehand, but opens as one advances’ (Derrida). ‘At the beginning I did not know the route. The journey was not easy. At home I hardly travelled and now I have taken on a long journey,’ says a surprised Clarice from Lakota on the Ivory Coast.

Migration is often considered a succession of moves between two places and of places of transit connecting one another. But this approach produces a fragmentary attitude, chopped into small pieces of the reality. The places are treated simultaneously as if they were distinct from the movement, as places of pause or rest, when in fact migration is a single entity, linking up movements in the same process which could not exist without each other. In the same logic, the stories of the girls, revealing places and routes in apparent disorder, make up a single migratory experience consisting of chance breaks and failures.

2. Porous places and fragile status

The itinerary gives shape to the process, to the experience of space in the migration, and events give a place a special quality in the experience. By ‘event’ we understand ‘the fact which simultaneously has sense and gives sense to the world. A fact is an event in that it constructs and participates in a new signification of its place in the world’[14] – and, we might add, in migration. According to this approach, the space where the movement occurs and the movement itself are not infinitely divisible at every moment of the trajectory; on the contrary, the movement is the reality itself, given rhythm and sense by the event.[15] The migratory experience of young migrants witnesses to this reality. To analyse this we propose to choose three routes, two via Sahel (Algeria), built round Bamako (Mali) and Zinder (Niger), and one by sea, on the Atlantic coast via Mauretania. In these itineraries more must be seen than a mere chronicle of events, for it is not so much the fact that matters as the conditions of its production and its perception.[16]

2.1. Building on the Event

Our aim, then, is to analyse the journeys of these young migrants from the point of view of the event as a means of examining the skills and possibilities of migration. To this end we will use the analytical grill proposed by Prestini-Christophe and composed of four elements:

• Being – a new fact of a certain intensity

• Interpretation – a source of new interpretation of the context

• Effect – effects on its social, familial or professional environment

• Consequence - revealing personal traits and opening up new possibilities.

This will be applied to the events of the journey of those who have taken up the various ways and modes of migration, namely young emigrants in search of work to improve their conditions of life and those of their family, young girls seeking to escape a forced marriage, minors carried off in a network of slave-trade, and girls fleeing from war on their own or with parents.

Thus the journey of Fatumata, a young migrant girl from the Ivory Coast seeking work, is made up of three stages, three migratory sequences in a single continuum of time and space:

• At the age of 15 she leaves her impoverished family, originally from Bouaflé and displaced to Bouaké after the attempted political coup on the Ivory Coast in 2002. She goes to Bamako in search of work. She chooses Bamako, capital of the neighbouring Mali, because of the partition of the Ivory Coast in the political crisis. In this situation the most accessible employment hub is outside the country because of the right of free travel among the countries of West Africa granted to the member states of CEDEAO. Such migration answers the economic requirement and the care for spatial proximity. Although it involves crossing a frontier, it is equivalent to an internal migration.

• After several months of tough domestic work she comes across a dancer-friend who wants to emigrate to Europe. ‘He insisted that I follow him, and finally I accepted,’ she explains. This encounter changes her plan of migration: Bamako, the employment hub, becomes the starting-point for emigration to Europe. The scale and nature of the migration change; the goal is now outside the region of West Africa, and she finds herself swept up in an adventure.

• Arrive at Gao in Mali, they stay with many other travellers and then her ‘friend’ deserts her. She realizes the dangers to which this new migration exposes her: ‘I took a big risk because I find myself in a male world without any protection from rape. From time to time men cast envious eyes at me.’ Nevertheless, she does not give up: ‘My aim now is to continue my journey as far as Morocco. If I manage to get work there I will see if I can get to Spain.’

• Fatumata’s experience resembles that of Aminata, a 14-year-old Senegalese, whose reason for leaving was different: she was escaping a forced marriage arranged by her family. Aminata left Mbour to go to Dakar. It was only after a certain time at Dakar that her sister suggested going to Spain. They moved first to Kayes (Mali) then Gao (Mali) in the direction of Algeria. ‘It was very tough’, explains Aminata, ‘I wanted to go back, but my sister said I should hang on.’

So, according to the analytical grill, Bamako, Dakar, Gao, Zinder, Kayes and Nuakchott are not only places of immigration or transit; they are also events, in the sense that

- A meeting with a ‘friend’ or ‘contact’, then the desertion in a ‘male world’ and the decision taken by a sister or a friend to take to the road again are new facts.

- By an alternative interpretation they are understood as opportunities or dangers, producing uncertainty but also evoking new goals.

- They show these young migrants other alternatives, looking for work and taking a grip on oneself, or fleeing from a forced marriage; they lead or compel the migrants to change their plan.

This analysis of the event speaks to us of continuity within rupture; it is still more interesting if the trajectory touches or includes sex-slavery.

2.2. The Paradox of Continuity in Rupture

As examples we will take two trajectories involving slave-networks from the same recruitment hub, Benin City:

- Trajectory by Kano (Nigeria), then Zinder (Niger) and then crossing Agadez and Arlit (Niger) heading for Tamanrasset (Algeria)

- Trajectory by Bamako (Mali) then Gao (Mali) across Kidal to reach Bordji and the Algerian frontier.

The criminal gangs behind these trajectories intended the young migrants for the European prostitution-market. This does not exempt them from exploitation in towns like Bamako, Kano and Zinder, where they made a stop ‘to find a truck’. ‘I guess it was there, because there was no luggage, only the travellers; it is a network’, explained Olebamo, a young Nigerian girl, met at Bamako.

In this way the system of sex-slavery constitutes perhaps one of the modes of migration which most explicitly illustrates the indivisibility of migratory movement (internal, regional, international). The expression ‘enslavement of persons’ designates ‘recruitment, transport, transfer, lodging or acceptance of persons through the threat or use of force or other forms of constraint for the purpose of exploitation’[17]. Lodging or acceptance of persons corresponds to places, transport and transfer corresponds to journeying, both associated with the exploitation which characterises sexslavery. Thus, the places are places of exploitation all along the routes and have no sense except in so far as they give access to transfers, that is, to journeys characterized by a certain intention to migrate. The young Nigerians exploited by criminal gangs who offer their services to get to Europe are forced to submit to prostitution in the key places of the trajectory in order to finance their transport and travel documents or to cross a frontier, and then at the destination to pay off the total cost of the migration (which is often illusory). In this context stages and transfers are intimately linked, inseparable from each other. Without these positions and the profit made from them there is no transfer, and without the prospect of a transfer there is no position, no place where the constraint of others for the purpose of exploitation can happen. According to this system the exploitation of persons creates the continuity by linking up the places. Their story in any case reveals an incomplete knowledge of the stages of their trajectory, ‘We passed through several countries, but I don’t remember them all. I remember Benin, Abidjan, Bobodiulasso, Bamako,’ explains Olebamo, a 16-year-old originally from Lagos, making a stop at Bamako with other girls.

Sex-slavery takes on an even more revealing character when it is not the basis of migration but is imposed as a ‘temporary solution’ in the course of the migratory experience. This is notably the case of Nigerian girls encountered at Zinder, who were fleeing from ‘misery and slavery’ in the words of Ochebee, a 16-year-old from Awka. ‘I learnt from the television that people get to Europe by this route’, she said, proud of her initiative. In the same spirit Elahor, a Nigerian aged 15 emigrated from Benin City, where she had lived with her impoverished grandparents since the death of her parents. Initially, she wanted to work in Abuja ‘to help her grandparents’. While she was there a compatriot explained to her that it was an advantage to be able to enter Europe and ‘gave her a contact at Zinder in Niger’. This contact suggested prostitution: ‘It is the only way for us girls to make money’, she said. Most of her clients were migrants. Without her knowing it, she had in fact been recruited into a network of sex-slavery which intended her for the European prostitution-market. The ‘boyfriend’ who was ‘protecting’ her was charged to pass her on to a ‘chairman’ in the north of Morocco who would get her into Spain.

In the quest for the financial or legal resources required for the journey these girls become consensual victims of sex-slavery and make progress in their migration under the ‘protection’ of a ‘boyfriend’ or recruitmentagent. They become victims of sex-slavery as migrants in their own country and then become engaged on international migration without understanding either the stakes or the risks. This evolution reflects not simply a juncture of independent conditions. Rather the situations complement each other, mix and form part of the same ‘lived experience’[18].

The migration of Congolese girls, encountered in West Africa, contributes to this dynamic although it springs from a different logic. Fleeing from the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, they arrive at Bamako by air and there make a stage of their journey with a family member (mother, aunt, uncle) in order to get a Mali passport and take the land route, without the possibility of getting a visa (at Kinshasa) to go to Europe. In Mali they can claim refugee status, though this is not what they and their family want.

All these examples underline the fact that a single migrant can associate/mix/unite several states, just as a single place can offer several migrants the same experience simultaneously or successively. The condition of a migrant in one place is not independent of other conditions in the same place, and the same place does not exclude different conditions. Thus, moves from one place to another are part of the continuity of fluidity of movement and exceed the complexity of limitations fluctuating in time and space. Places and moves are independent of each other, but both bring together social, political and legal factors, and together make up the plans for action, how to migrate or move around. ‘Different moments (of migration) do not come successively but interpenetrate and receive their meaning from the future,’[19] that is, the fulfilment of the plan of migration.

3. Unpredictability, vulnerability, violence

This context demands an analysis of the situations of vulnerability which affect migrants and young female migrants in particular. Vulnerability is here defined in terms of the risk factors for the girl herself, her moral and physical integrity and for the migratory project she has initiated.

3.1. Uncertainties and opportunities of vulnerable young female migrants

The basic hypothesis is that the events which occur at specific moment of migration put the young girls at risk, which results in changes in terms of vulnerability which impede their projects. Vulnerability is therefore a factor in the analysis of the risks undergone and the opportunities seized by the young migrants. In other words, it is a question whether this vulnerability constitutes a risk or an opportunity. The decision to go off alone constitutes the original vulnerability, for which the girls are normally unprepared. ‘I was not ready in my head to confront what I am living through’, explains Suzanne. Migration is not necessarily the fruit of a voluntary decision, but can result from family necessity and itself constitute a constraint.

- ‘I came here (Bamako) against my will. The decision was made by my father because of the war’, says Suzanne, a young Congolese.

- ‘I left Nigeria because my family wanted me to get married already’, mourns Elisa.

- ‘I entered upon the adventure at the request of my friend, but it was my decision’, explains Aminata, from Guinea.

This initial vulnerability is reinforced in the course of the trajectory by economic and legal obstacles, and by wounds suffered, both physical and moral. Thus the vulnerability develops through many unforeseen factors:

- Cheating: ‘In Niger he (the person to whom she had been entrusted by her father) went off with my money and my passport.’

- Economic precariousness: ‘I stayed in Bamako because I had no more money.’

- Rigour of domestic work: ‘I had to work too hard to live.’

- Loneliness: ‘I had to beg to live and slept in the street in the open air.’

- Legalities: ‘We were told that we needed a Mali passport to get to Algeria.’

Such unexpected factors can be accidental, but can come one after another and accumulate in time and space. There come moments which raise questions about the present situation and prospects for the whole trajectory. This requires research of possible outcomes. Resources vary between risks and opportunities: I accept prostitution to get money, to survive and acquire papers. In this case prostitution is presented as an opportunity and the violence done as a necessary evil. The consequent risk of recruitment into a network of sex-slavery is obscured or accepted as a new chance to throw off the blockage which is currently weighing upon the project of migration. Thus the risks and opportunities of today bring with them the uncertainties of tomorrow:

‘I and my girl-friend took a minibus to Kano. There we had a hard time. It is not easy for girls to find work there. We went on to Niger. As we had no more money we started begging. I got enough to feed myself and supply my needs. After some months my companion decided to follow a man from the Cameroons to Libya, and I paid money to a ‘chairman’ called Johnny to get to Algeria,’ explains Muakube.

Young migrant women are exposed to a double vulnerability, one part of their condition, young and feminine, the other inherent in the migratory process, punctuated with the unexpected, and alternating between fear and hope. The travel of young girls is based on the principle of uncertainty; it becomes coherent only if transformed into the logic of opportunity.

3.2. The State and Criminal Gangs, a shared violence

At the same time inability to plan ahead and its corollary, vulnerability, exposed migrant women to violence. For young girls violence is of two kinds, administrative arrangements by the State for migrants, and trafficking networks of organized sex-slavery by criminal gangs. Girls become hostages to a paradoxical relationship between institutional violence and criminal gangs, which mutually encourage one another: the former draws its legitimacy (or what it considers legitimate) from the latter, and the latter draws its utility from the former.

In this matter Alagbe’s story is edifying. She is an Algerian girl of 17:

On the sixth day after my arrival at Maghnia after fleeing from the house of the Chairman, the Algerian police made some raids into the forest. I was captured and taken with about 30 people to Tizawati (a village in the Algerian desert). They asked our ages, but that made no difference. I suffered in that prison; we were given food once a day and not enough. The guards are heartless. After a week we were taken to the other side of Mali. We came back to Tizawati but there is no work. There were there some escape agents who offered to take us to Tamanrasset, but they were not serious, and one of them wanted to abuse me sexually.

This young migrant girl managed to escape from the violence of a criminal gang. But where she had taken refuge she was quickly confronted with violence from the State as a means of applying the politics of externalisation of European frontier-control. The acts of violence (raids, imprisonment, disregard of the rights of children, ill treatment) exerted by institutions and presented as political instruments in the struggle against ‘clandestine migration’ mortgage Alagbe’s proposed migration. In any case she cannot return; ‘I do not want my grandparents to die before I have done something for them,’ she says. In this context the offer of the escape agents seems something positive, despite the accompanying sexual abuse. The violence of the criminal gang is undergone and accepted by Alagbe as a means of escaping the violence of the State which has cast her out into the desert and blocked her project of migration. These moments of violence are the intense fragments of the migratory experience of young girls. They break the realities of childhood and make the project of migration uncertain. We reach here the situation which Hannah Arendt qualifies as ‘the total uncertainty which we meet as soon as we enter the domain of violence’.[20]


Movements of young girls proceed in paradoxes, oscillating continually between opportunities and risks. Esther emigrates to improve her conditions of life. Alone on migration she becomes vulnerable: ‘Some men are not good to us girls,’ she says, ‘I was raped in Niger by a Nigerian who sent me right to the frontier. There a ‘contact’ suggested that she become a prostitute. ‘It is the only way for us girls to make money,’ she grants. So prostitution imposes itself as a resource for survival, overcoming obstacles, keeping the project of migration going and safeguarding the undertaking made, explicitly or not, to the family. This family mandate or personal promise creates at the same time the force and the initial fragility of these young migrant women. Both one and the other are the source of the energy of despair, as for both one and the other they accept violence and force.

Despite all these obstacles, the young migrant woman stands as a clear statement of hope which continually discovers new corridors of migration and tries out new opportunities, as an exiled saviour (Kundera) determined to offer her family better conditions of life.

[1] By West Africa we mean the Economic Community of States of West Africa (CEDEAO) which comprises Senegal, the Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry, Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Benin, Togo, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Cap-Vert. Mauretania has currently withdrawn, but the other states have indicated that it may re-join CEDEAO at any time. We therefore include it in our survey of West Africa.

[2] Source: Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2008 Revision, http://esa.un.org/migration/index.asp?panel=1.

[3] At the end of 2011 West Africa numbered 280,500 refugees, a rise of 66.7% in one year. Source: World Tendencies, HCR, 2011.

[4] PNUD Rapport mondial sur le développement humain (Table B), New York, 2009, p. 6.

[5] Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2012). Trends in International Migrant Stock: Migrants by Destination and Origin (POP/DB/MIG/Stock.Rev.2012).

[6] See footnote 4. Ivory Coast 2.4 million, Ghana 1.9 million.

[7] World Bank, 2011.

[8] 46.8% of the international migrants in Africa are women. Source: see footnote 5.

[9] Principally from the Gambia, Ghana, Ivory Cost, Mali, Nigeria or Senegal.

[10] According to the first world report on sexual exploitation published by Fondation Scelles, 80% of these prostitutes are women or girls, of whom three-quarters are between 13 and 25 years old.

[11] In Senegal prostitution is not a punishable offence. On the contrary, those involved in such activity must hold an up-to-date health and social certificate, without which the prostitution is considered clandestine.

[12] Cortes, G., 1998, ‘Migrations, systèmes de mobilité, espaces de vie : à la recherche de modèles’, l’Espace géographique, no. 3.

[13] Simon, G., La planète migratoire dans la mondialisation, Armand Colin, p. 20.

[14] Prestini-Christophe, M., ‘A new Grid for Reading, the Event’ in Pensée Plurielle, no. 13 (2006), p. 88.

[15] Bergson, H., La pensée et le mouvant (PUF, 2009), p. 158-159.

[16] Quere, I.J., ‘Entre fait et sens, la dualité de l’événement’, Réseaux, no 139 (2006), p. 186-218.

[17] Additional protocol of the Convention of United Nations against organised transnational crime, intended to prevent, check and punish enslavement of persons, especially women and children (2000).

[18] Bergson, op.cit., p. 612.

[19] Conversation with Souleymane Bachir Diagne, Philosophie Magazine no 56 (February 2012), p. 65.

[20] Arendt, Hannah, Du mensonge à la violence (Calmann-Lévy, 1972), p. 107.