Wed, Dec 05, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Desperate African migrants turn to deadly ocean route

Reuters, DAKAR

Assane Diallo is making final preparations for a journey that he knows could cost him his life: 1,000 miles across open ocean from Senegal to the Canary Islands in a 15m wooden boat held together by rusty nails.

The 35-year-old fisherman hopes to push off this week from a beach in Senegal’s capital, Dakar, with water, dried food and potentially dozens of passengers. He just needs two motors and enough fuel for the week-long journey — and also to patch up a 1m gash in the hull.

Diallo is part of a resurgence in African migrants taking the treacherous Atlantic route to the Spanish territory this year in search of jobs that they cannot find at home.

Many migrants see the chain of islands off the Moroccan coast as the only viable option left as the EU spends millions of dollars cutting off land routes through north Africa. They consider it a launch pad for asylum in mainland Europe.

“Some, if they see a canoe, do not even consider staying here. They will leave at all costs,” Diallo said, looking over the litter-strewn beach where listless teenagers mill about at dusk, some fixing fishing nets or painting boats in bright reds and blues.

More than 1,200 migrants arrived in the Canary Islands between Jan. 1 and Nov. 14, according to Spanish Ministry of the Interior data, the highest in nine years and a fourfold increase over the same period last year.

It marks the revival of a worrying trend. In 2006 — when 30,000 migrants managed to reach the Canary Islands — about 7,000 people died trying to make the crossing, according to rights groups. In the decade that followed, Spanish patrols slowed the pace. Land routes through Niger and Libya to Italy became more popular.

However, the Italian government has focused on stopping the Libya route. With migrants detained in slave-like conditions in Libya, the numbers arriving in Italy have dropped off dramatically from a peak of 181,000 in 2016.

Migrants’ will to leave remains.

The fall in arrivals to Italy has corresponded with a surge in attempts to reach Spain, where a record number of migrants have reached the mainland in the past few months.

“Managing ... migratory flows is very much like squeezing a balloon. When one route closes, the flows increase on another,” said Izabella Cooper, spokeswoman for EU border agency Frontex. “The only solution to migration is to eliminate the root causes: wars and poverty.”

Migrants face many dangers on the open ocean, including mountainous waves, blistering heat and starvation.

While the numbers remain small compared with arrivals on the Spanish mainland, authorities in Senegal and Gambia said that there has been a rise this year in boats attempting the crossing to the Canary Islands.

In October, Guinea Bissau’s coast guard discovered the empty wreckage of a boat that had been carrying dozens of migrants. That same month, a boat with 72 Gambians and Senegalese heading for the Canary Islands was rescued off Guinea Bissau after engine failure.

One of the migrants, Alieu Gaye, said he went by boat because he had heard that land routes had become too dangerous.

“People are afraid to take the road. They prefer to travel by the Atlantic Ocean,” he said.

Policing a coastline hundreds of kilometers long is a difficult task, the coast guard says.

The Spanish Guardia Civil since 2006 has worked with the Senegalese Coast Guard to intercept migrants. They have two 30m boats, one of which goes out every day, but crew members say they rarely find anything.

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