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Avantee's MA thesis: conversations with North-South migrants in Dakar, Senegal

Walking around the streets of Dakar, Avantee observed the strong segregation of public spaces. At that point, she was only at the first stage of her research but felt a strong interest in exploring why migrants from the Global North, often considered as "expats", move to the Global South and how do they interact with the communities that receive them.

We asked Avantee about her motivations and learnings:

What brought you to study about North to South migration?

During the first EMMIR year in Germany and Norway, we followed a lot of de debates about migrants costing the EU tax fare and the wealth fare system and people saying that they were not contributing but rather causing criminality. All those debates related to securitization, certain areas being no-go zones, terrorism, etc. made me start reflecting upon the two sides of migration. I am from India and have previously worked in the field of human rights, so, for me, migration is not one-sided. People come to India as well to gain profit and maximize their wealth.

Later we had a module about African Migration and I started reading about the movement of individuals from multinational cooperations. Like people going to South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo, or other unstable places, to make profit. Migrants from the Global North, depending on what their agenda is, can cause damages and costs. They can do good, of course, but also bad, and we tend not to see that. We never talk of a white person as a migrant, at least when you are talking about the larger global dynamic. They are expats, people who move legally in a position of power, with big financial institutions or the UN, etc. So they are never seen as migrants. We do not problematize their movement as such, we do not frame them as migrants.

Why did you decide to conduct your research in Dakar?

I chose Senegal to do this because I had been there and I knew about the strong expat populations. Senegal is one of the few countries in West Africa that has stable transitions of government, it's one of the most stable countries, but in a largely unstable region. A lot of international financial institutions, international organisations or diplomatic missions have the regional HQ in Dakar, and that means a lot of expats move there. I found it really interesting.

I was there the summer before writing my thesis. I knew there was also a lot of segregation in public spaces. People knew which pubs were for expats and which were for locals. I chose Dakar for that reason.

I decided to focus on a really basic question: why people move from prosperity and development, what apparently Africans are chasing, but people move to Senegal. I had four respondents, two were American nationals, two were French, one of them was of Malian descent. I spoke to them for a sort of different reasons, as a result of different situations.

Was there a pattern among the conversations you had with them?

My main finding was that they migrated to Dakar for a better life. One of the American respondents was a journalist, for example, he moved because back in the US he would have had a regular job, paying his debts and loans, trying to keep up social appearances. Whereas in Dakar he was in a job market that is not saturated, as an expat, American correspondent. When he reports for international media houses, he gets paid an expat rate. He spoke French and had knowledge of the region, he had the feeling life was a lot better there. However, despite having lived in Senegal for the last 7 years, he got a residence permit very recently.

A couple of school teachers, also from the US, were struggling to live there. They were part of a rather lower-class because they working in public schools and feeling under pressure. They decided to change. It was easier to go to Senegal and get a job at international schools. This was an upworth class mobility for them, their housing and pay package was good, their social circles expanded to having ambassadors over for dinner. During the interview they acknowledged how the shift in lifestyle is addictive for some people. It is hard to be back and just be a “regular nobody”.

The words "France Degage" are graffitied in many places across the city

What methods did you choose to conduct the reserach?

Ethnography and qualitative in-depth interviews. I also observed dynamics in public spaces. The greeting culture, for example, helped me a lot. I was asked many times what was a girl like me standing alone in front of a notebook. The reaction of people when I told them about my topic was surprising. I was asking: why do people migrate to Senegal? They are not forced to migrate, get into a boat, or pay lots of money to move. Then, are they not considered migrants? It’s interesting how to create this expat experience, one of them described as “stones across the water”, you are always in the surface.

What did you learn about the migrant-expat debate?

The expat crowd tends to stick to each other. People feel they do not have enough Senegalese friends. I met just one person who spoke a Senegalese language, Pular, and could understand a bit Wolof. expats do not invest time in learning the language of the country they live in.

They did not feel that they should integrate because they are “not here to stay” or “eventually going back”, but they have been there for 5 or 7 years.

They were able to access a lot of high-paid jobs, none paid taxes because they had international contracts. In Dakar, in many ways, the expats themselves were running the business dedicated to other expats, they were not creating wealth for the country. Places are built for them and populated by them, certain areas for upper-class people in Dakar. You can tell.

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