Posted on March 11, 2024

In Senegal’s Capital, Nicaragua Is a Hot Ticket Among Travel Agents as Migrants Try to Reach US

Baba Ahmed, Associated Press, March 2, 2024

Gueva Ba tried to reach Europe by boat 11 times from Morocco, failing each attempt. Then, in 2023, the former welder heard about a new route to the United States by flying to Nicaragua and making the rest of the journey illegally by land to Mexico’s northern border.

“In Senegal, it’s all over the streets — everyone’s talking about Nicaragua, Nicaragua, Nicaragua,” said Ba, who paid about 6 million CFA francs ($10,000) to get to Nicaragua in July with stops in Morocco, Spain and El Salvador. “It’s not something hidden.”


They are part of a surge in migration to the United States that is extraordinary for its size and scope, with more people from far-flung countries accounting for crossings at the border. And as with this route used by the Senegalese, more are figuring out plans, making payments, and seeking help via social networks, and apps like WhatsApp and TikTok.


U.S. authorities arrested Senegalese migrants 20,231 times for crossing the border illegally from July to December. That’s a 10-fold increase from 2,049 arrests during the same period of 2022 {snip}

Word of the Nicaragua route began spreading early last year in Dakar and took hold in May, said Abdoulaye Doucouré, who owns a travel agency that sold about 1,200 tickets from Dakar to Nicaragua in the last three months of 2023, for the equivalent of several thousand dollars each.


Spikes attributed to social media have occurred in other West African nations, whose people have historically turned first to Europe to flee. Mauritanians have arrived at the U.S. border with Mexico in similarly large numbers, and migrants from Ghana and Gambia have come, too.


Passports from many African countries carry little weight in the Western Hemisphere, making the journey by land to the United States difficult to even begin. Senegalese can fly visa-free to only two countries in the Americas: Nicaragua and Bolivia, according to The Henley Passport Index. Nicaragua is much closer than Bolivia and avoids the notoriously dangerous Darien Gap in Panama.

As U.S. sanctions against Nicaragua’s repressive government have increased, the government of President Daniel Ortega has used migration to push back.

The Nicaraguan government went so far as to hire a Dubai-based firm to train Nicaraguan civil aviation to manage national immigration procedures for charter flight passengers. More than 500 charter flights landed from June to November, mostly from Haiti and Cuba, according to Manuel Orozco, director of the migration, remittances and development program at the Inter-American Dialogue.

{snip} In African capitals, migrants typically buy multileg tickets from travel agents connecting through Istanbul or Madrid, followed by stops in Bogota, Colombia, or San Salvador, El Salvador, before ultimately arriving in Managua, Nicaragua. From there, they meet smugglers offering to take them to the Honduran border, or arrange the trip all the way to the U.S.


While most asylum claims fail, the immigration court backlog means that people can remain in the U.S. for years, with eligibility for work permits. The asylum grant rate for Senegalese was 26% in the U.S. government’s budget year ended Sept. 30, compared with 14% for all nationalities {snip}