At least 24 dead in a new migration drama in

At least 24 dead in a new migration drama in Senegal

At least 24 people have died at sea in a new tragedy of illegal emigration to Europe in northern Senegal, according to an updated report sent to AFP on Thursday by the governor of the Saint-Louis region.

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Alioune Badara Samb, contacted by telephone, said 24 bodies had been recovered since Wednesday after their boat sank. In addition, 21 people were rescued, he said.

He did not comment on the number of missing people. Witnesses said there were 200 or even more than 300 people on the boat, but the governor urged caution given those numbers.

The boat got into distress in a muddy area a few hundred meters from shore. A number of the surviving occupants were scattered among the crowd on the shore, making the investigation difficult, he said.

The coast can be particularly dangerous due to ocean currents and the nature of the seabed.

A monitoring system has been set up on the coast, the governor said.

Mamady Dianfo, originally from Casamance (in the south, at the other end of the country), spoke on Wednesday evening of more than 300 people on board when the boat left the Senegalese coast a week ago. Another survivor, Alpha Baldé, spoke of more than 200 inmates.

Mamady Dianfo said the boat arrived in Morocco. There “the captain told us that he was lost and could no longer continue the journey. We asked him to take us back to Senegal,” he said.

The tragedy occurred at the mouth of the Saint-Louis and was notoriously dangerous, he said.

Departure stream

According to the governor, the boat may have departed from Joal-Fadiouth, a few hundred kilometers further south.

For years, Senegal has faced a flood of refugees heading to the Canary Islands, the Spanish archipelago and gateway to Europe, via the particularly deadly Atlantic route off the West African coast.

According to them, thousands of Senegalese fleeing poverty, unemployment or a lack of future prospects have secretly embarked in wooden canoes, which can be up to twenty meters long and carry dozens of passengers, in exchange for a certain sum of money.

They pay a few hundred thousand CFA francs (1000 FCFA = 1.5 EUR) to a smuggler and brave the dangers of a 1500 kilometer journey to reach the Canary Islands after seven or ten days of sailing.

At the end of 2023, hardly a day went by without reports of an arrival in the Canary Islands, an interception attack or a shipwreck in Senegal.

According to Frontex, the agency responsible for controlling European borders, migrants from Senegal are the most numerous to arrive in the Canary Islands, along with those from Morocco.

According to the Spanish government, the number of migrants who landed in the Canary Islands in 2023 tripled in a year, reaching a record 39,910.

Of the more than 6,600 migrants who died or disappeared while trying to reach Spain in 2023, the vast majority died on the Atlantic route, according to a recent report by Spanish NGO Caminando Fronteras.

President Macky Sall ordered emergency measures in November to stem this growing flow.