Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Politics and International Studies

Research Student: Dr Hannah Cross

West African Labour Mobility and EU Borders: migrant communities in Senegal, Mauritania and Spain

Photo of Dr Hannah Cross

This thesis examines the dynamics of West African labour migration to Europe. It focuses on sending communities in Senegal and on migrant communities in Mauritania and Spain.

The thesis argues that in the historical and geographical context, contemporary migration can be characterised as a regime of unfree labour mobility. This contrasts with existing characterisations, which centre on migrants’ agency in the global era and connect their mobility with development. It is important because migrant labour continues to be entwined with West Africa’s underdevelopment.

The thesis deploys a multiscalar approach, which conceptualises the institutional form of the global labour market and identifies the patterns of movement and resistance that emerge on the local level.

The migration regime is situated within the tensions between an economic logic, which promotes the mobility of labour, and a territorial logic, which prevents it. Global development institutions often espouse the contribution of migrant labour to growth in the north or poverty alleviation in the south; while EU relations with countries to the south of the Mediterranean, and the US presence in the Mauritanian ‘buffer zone’, place heavy restrictions on mobility. These competing regimes regulate an unstable and unpredictable trajectory for migrants.

The thesis explores migrants’ confrontations with the unfree labour regime, which challenge not only displacement, repression and segmentation in the European labour market but also the necessity of labour migration itself. Migrants are diverse and cannot be extrapolated into a group that is represented by relative wealth or poverty. Instead, histories of dispossession and differential incorporation in the global economy displace people and continue to direct them towards northern labour markets with a level of compulsion that is unexpected of the global era.

This encompassing theory of unfree labour mobility does not predict individual and localised outcomes. However, it explains the boundaries of their possible forms, which ethnography then explores. This atypically broad view of mobility contributes to a reconsideration of migrants’ autonomy and modes of resistance, concluding that their trajectories are constrained by patterns of accumulation and territorial controls.

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