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After a month at sea, 37 Senegalese survivors of a deadly migration attempt to Spain return home

2023-08-22 20:24
Senegalese authorities say 37 migrants who survived after being rescued off the coast of Cape Verde as they tried to reach Spain's Canary Islands have been brought back home
After a month at sea, 37 Senegalese survivors of a deadly migration attempt to Spain return home

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — A few dozen survivors of a deadly migration attempt to Europe reunited with their tearful families in Senegal, a week after they were found adrift off the Atlantic archipelago of Cape Verde.

More than 60 migrants are feared dead from the ill-fated vessel that originally had more than 100 people aboard.

The boat is believed to have set off from Senegal towards Spain’s Canary Islands on July 10 but it never reached its destination. Last week, 38 people were rescued by a Spanish fishing vessel and brought to Cape Verde before being returned to Senegal.

Senegalese officials say 37 men, including five minors and a citizen from neighboring Guinea-Bissau, were repatriated from Cape Verde’s Sal Island on a military plane on Monday. Some were seen by Associated Press reporters carried into ambulances upon landing at the airport in Senegal's capital, Dakar. One survivor remained hospitalized in the Cape Verdean capital of Praia, according to the local Red Cross.

The migration route from West Africa to Spain is one of the world’s most dangerous, yet the number of migrants leaving from Senegal on rickety wooden boats has surged over the past year. The boats try to reach Spain’s Canary Islands, an archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa that has been used as a stepping stone to continental Europe.

In the first six months of 2023, nearly 800 people have died or gone missing in the Atlantic trying to reach the Canary Islands, according to Spanish rights group Walking Borders.

Worsening youth unemployment, political unrest, violence by armed groups and climate change push migrants across West Africa to risk their lives on overcrowded boats.

On Monday, family members from Fass Boye, a coastal fishing town in Senegal where many of the migrants had left from, made the three-hour drive south to a military airstrip in Dakar to welcome their surviving relatives. Some were brought to greet their families at the airport on a government-chartered bus.

Abdoulaye Gote Kangui was in the western city of Touba on Tuesday when his son More called him from a borrowed phone at the hospital in Cape Verde to tell him that he was still alive. When he got the call, Kangui scrambled to top up the credit on his phone.

Still, the reunification was shadowed by the loss of more than 60 people who are missing and presumed dead. Among them was 18-year-old Papa Sow, More's adoptive brother, who made a last-minute decision to join him on the journey.

“It’s God’s will. Whether you accept it or not," Kangui said.

Annette Seck, minister for Senegalese living abroad, said in a news conference that the remains of seven people found on the boat were buried on-site in Cape Verde. She thanked Cape Verde authorities for coming to the migrants’ aid and offered her condolences to bereaved Senegalese families.

Fishermen and farmers in the coastal community of Fass Boye, the journey’s departure point, blame a lack of employment prospects for pushing young men to risk their lives on the deadly migration journey.

Head fisherman Cheikh Seck said on Friday that profits have nosedived since the Senegalese government began selling contracts to foreign companies, who use larger boats and more expensive machinery to deplete the fish stock at alarming rates.

According to Seck, at least 20 large fishing boats called pirogues full of hopeful migrants have left the town over the last two decades.

For Fass Boye, the dangerous sea crossings have never ended in a tragedy like this, he said.


Follow AP’s global migration coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

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