Skip to main content Accessibility help

Backway or bust: causes and consequences of Gambian irregular migration

  • Catherine T. Conrad Suso (a1)


Gambian irregular migration is a phenomenon that is well known and discussed within this small African nation, yet little is understood of the deep personal and socio-cultural motives to embark on the perilous journey across the Sahara towards Europe. This paper explores the ambitions and capabilities of Gambians who embark on irregular migration, or the so-called ‘backway’.


Corresponding author


Hide All

The author would like to acknowledge funding from the Saint Mary's University Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research, the SMU Research Ethics Board for review of the research, Kebba Suso for assistance with fieldwork and translation and all Gambian participants of the study for sharing their voices.



Hide All
Adepoju, A. 2003. ‘Migration in West Africa’, Development 46, 3: 3741.
Akokpari, J. 2006. ‘Globalization, migration, and the challenges of development in Africa’, Perspectives in Global Development and Technology 5, 3: 125–55.
Ali, S. 2007. ‘Go west young man: the culture of migration among Muslims in Hyderabad, India’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 33, 1: 3758.
Alpes, M. 2014. ‘Imagining a future in ‘bush': migration aspirations at times of crisis in Anglophone Cameroon’, Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power 21, 3: 259–74.
Andersson, R. 2014. Illegality, Inc.: clandestine migration and the business of bordering Europe. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.
Bal, E. & Willems, R.. 2013. ‘Introduction: aspiring migrants, local crises and the imagination of futures ‘away from home’’, Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power 21, 3: 249–58.
BBC News. 2017. 28 April. <>.
Carling, J. 2002. ‘Migration in the age of involuntary immobility: theoretical reflections and Cape Verdean experiences’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 28, 1: 542.
Carling, J. 2016. ‘Migrant smuggling data and research: A global review of the emerging evidence base.’ IOM Publication. <>.
Carling, J. & Collins, F.. 2017. ‘Aspiration, desire and drivers of migration’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. <>.
Carling, J. & Hernandez-Carretero, M.. 2011. ‘Protecting Europe and protecting migrants? Strategies for managing unauthorised migration from Africa’, British Journal of Politics and International Relations 13: 4258.
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). 2018. The World Factbook. <>, accessed 15.5.2018.
Colvin, L. 1981. The Uprooted of the Western Sahel: migrants’ quest for cash in the Senegambia. New York, NY: Praeger.
de Haas, H. 2006. ‘Trans-Saharan migration to North Africa and the EU: historical roots and current trends.’ Migration Policy Institute. <>.
de Haas, H. 2014. Migration Theory: Quo Vadis? Working Paper 100. Oxford: International Migration Institute, University of Oxford.
Dempha, M., Nambwira, A., Jallow, A. & Secka, B.. 2017. ‘Curbing irregular migration through sustainable livelihoods: findings from the assessment of returnee migrants from Libya and Niger.’ Employment Directorate, Gambian Ministry of Trade, Industry, Regional Integration and Employment, October.
Donato, K. & Massey, D.. 2016. ‘Twenty-first-century globalization and illegal migration’, Annals, AAPSS, 666: 726.
Embiricos, A. 2016. ‘The back way to Europe: Gambia's forgotten refugees.’ <>.
Flahaux, M. and de Haas, H.. 2016. ‘African migration: trends, patterns, drivers’, Comparative Migration Studies 4: 1. <>.
Gaibazzi, P. 2014. ‘Visa problem: certification, kinship, and the production of ‘ineligibility' in the Gambia’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 20: 3855.
Gaibazzi, P. 2015. Bush Bound: Young Men and Rural Permanence in Migrant West Africa. New York, NY: Berghahn.
Graw, K. 2012. ‘On the cause of migration: being and nothingness in the African-European border zone’, in Graw, K. & Schielke, S., eds. The Global Horizon: expectations of migration in Africa and the Middle East. Leuven: Leuven University Press.
Graw, K. & Schielke, S.. 2012. The Global Horizon: expectations of migration in Africa and the Middle East. Leuven: Leuven University Press.
Hernandez-Carretero, M. & Carling, J.. 2012. ‘Beyond ‘kamikaze migrants': risk taking in West African boat migration to Europe’, Human Organization 71, 4: 407–16.
Hultin, N., Jallow, B., Lawrance, B. & Sarr, A.. 2017. ‘Autocracy, migration, and the Gambia's unprecedented 2016 election’, African Affairs 116, 463: 321–40.
Hunt, L. 2015. ‘The Gambia faces battle to deter its young people from migrating abroad.’ The Guardian. <>.
Ifekwunigwe, J. 2013. ‘Voting with their feet: Senegalese youth, clandestine boat migration, and the gendered politics of protest’, African and Black Diaspora: An International Journal 6, 2: 218–35.
International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). 2016. ‘Sending money home: contributing to the SDGs, one family at a time.’ <>.
Jonsson, G. 2008. Migration Aspiration and Immobility in a Malian Soninke Village. Oxford: International Migration Institute.
Kandel, W. & Massey, D.. 2002. ‘The culture of Mexican migration: a theoretical and empirical analysis’, Social Forces 80, 3: 9811004.
Kebbeh, O. 2013. ‘The Gambia: migration in Africa's ‘Smiling Coast’.’ Migration Policy Institute. <>.
Lopez-Sala, A. and Godenau, D.. 2017. ‘Controlling irregular immigration at the European Union's southern maritime border. An emerging system driven by ‘Migration Emergencies’’, Journal of Mediterranean Knowledge 2, 1: 1735.
Maastricht Graduate School of Governance (MGSoG). 2017. ‘Gambia Migration Profile: Study on Migration Routes in West and Central Africa.’ Maastricht: MGSoG.
Mainwaring, C. & Brigden, N.. 2016. ‘Beyond the border: clandestine migration journeys’, Geopolitics 21, 2: 243–62.
Massey, D., Arango, J., Hugo, G., Kouaouci, A., Pellegrino, A. & Taylor, J.E.. 1993. ‘Theories of international migration: a review and appraisal’, Population and Development Review 19, 3: 431–66.
Mbaye, L. 2014. ‘Barcelona or die: understanding illegal migration from Senegal’, IZA Journal of Migration 3, 21: 752–71.
Mueller, T. 2016. ‘Out of Africa: movements along the ‘back way' from Gambia to Eritrea and the ‘capacity to aspire’.’ <>.
Nyanzi, S., Rosenberg-Jallow, O., Bah, O. & Nyanzi, S.. 2005. ‘Bumsters, big black organs and old white gold: embodied racial myths in sexual relationships of Gambian beach boys’, Culture, Health & Sexuality 7, 6: 557–69.
Parkes, R. 2017. ‘Out of (and inside) Africa: migration routes and their impacts.’ European Union Institute for Security Studies Brief Issue. < March 4 2018>.
Richmond, A. 2002. ‘Globalization: implications for immigrants and refugees’, Ethnic and Racial Studies 25, 5: 707–27.
Schapendonk, J. & van Moppes, D.. 2007. ‘Migration and information: images of Europe, migration encouraging factors and en route information sharing.’ Working Papers Migration and Development Series, Report 16. Radboud University.
Sen, A. 1985. Commodities and Capabilities. Amsterdam: North-Holland.
Strand Jagne, F. 2014. ‘The back way to Europe: a case study about why young men in Gambia are prepared to risk their lives to get to Europe.’ Dissertation. <>.
Uggla, F. 2015. ‘Looking for a greener pasture; exploring the narratives of Gambian clandestine migrants.’ Master's Thesis in Geography, Stockholm University.
UNHCR. 2016. ‘IOM missing migrants project.’ <>, accessed 7.9.2018.
Washington Post. 2015. ‘Africa exodus: tiny Gambia has a big export: migrants desperate to reach Europe.’ <>.
Willems, R. 2014. ‘Local realities and global possibilities: deconstructing the imaginations of aspiring migrants in Senegal’, Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power 21, 3: 320–35.
World Bank. 2013. Africa's Pulse, Volume 8. Washington, DC: World Bank.
World Bank. 2018. ‘The World Bank in The Gambia: Overview.’ 19 April. <>.
Zanker, F. 2017. ‘The Gambia is now free and democratic so Europe is pushing its migrants to go home.’ Quartz Africa. <>.
Zanker, F. & Altrogge, J.. 2017. The Politics of Migration Governance in The Gambia. Freiburg: Arnold Bergstraesser Institut.
To satisfy confidentiality of informants, the SMU REB required that no information be provided in the publication that could identify who the individuals are.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Journal of Modern African Studies
  • ISSN: 0022-278X
  • EISSN: 1469-7777
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-modern-african-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed