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 sea attempt to migrate to Europe reunited with their tearful families in Senegal, a week after they were found adrift off the Atlantic archipelago of Cape Verde.

A boat carrying more than 100 people is believed to have set off from Senegal toward Spain’s Canary Islands on July 10 but never reached its destination. More than 60 migrants are feared dead from the ill-fated voyage.

Last week, a Spanish fishing vessel rescued 38 people who were brought to Cape Verde before being returned to Senegal.

Senegalese officials said a military plane repatriated 37 men, including five minors and a citizen from neighboring Guinea-Bissau, from Cape Verde’s Sal Island on Monday. Associated Press journalists saw some of the survivors getting carried into ambulances 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 Fass Boye 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.


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