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Senegal Worried About Growing 'Brain Drain'

IOM says Senegal is losing some of brightest, most highly skilled people as more professionals go abroad in search of better working, economic conditions

The International Organization for Migration says Senegal is losing some of its brightest, most highly skilled people as more professionals go abroad in search of better working and economic conditions. The IOM says the Senegalese government is worried about this growing "brain drain."

Until recently, Senegal has mainly been a country of destination in the West African region. Irregular migrants from countries such as Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali have traditionally headed toward Senegal where economic prospects were better.

Many migrants remained in Senegal. Others headed further north to Maghreb countries or traveled by sea or air to Europe.

But, the global financial crisis has hit Senegal hard and this is spurring many of its young people to seek work abroad.

Jean-Philippe Chauzy, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, says tens of thousands of highly qualified, skilled Senegalese professionals are migrating to France, Italy and other European countries, as well as the United States and Canada.

"Often they cannot find employment to match their skills because they are undocumented migrants," he said. "So, we go from a phenomenon called the "brain drain" to the "brain waste" by which those skilled Senegalese are not being employed properly are losing their skills. And, that obviously has a negative impact not just on the individuals, but also on the country. Senegal has invested in the training of those young people."

Senegal has a number of good universities that are producing qualified professionals in many fields. The IOM study indicates skilled workers represent about one quarter of the Senegalese who go to other countries seeking better conditions. It says medical professionals are the most prevalent.

This emigration is causing serious losses for the society. Chauzy says the IOM has been working with the Senegalese government to put in place a program called "Migration for Development in Africa."

He says this program reaches out to the diaspora and encourages professionals to return to Senegal, if only temporarily.

"You have…Senegalese doctors with specialized skills returning back to Dakar and teaching for three months, six months, up to a year and transferring the skills they have acquired through their migration process, for instance in France, Italy, Canada or the U.S.," said Chauzy.

"So, what we are trying to do now with the Senegalese government is to make sure that migration is also included more broadly in poverty reduction strategies. In other words, to make sure that Senegalese remittances that are sent by Senegalese expatriates are put to the best use in the country," he added.

Chauzy explains remittances should not just be sent to families, but should also be used to create enterprises that will generate employment outside the capital, Dakar.

The IOM notes remittances sent by Senegalese abroad have increased dramatically from $233 million in 2000 to nearly $1.2 billion in 2007. This represents 10.7 percent of the country's gross domestic product.