Senegal sounds alarm over migration surge after boat disaster

Tunisian migrants stand on the German NGO Sea-Eye migrant rescue ship 'Alan Kurdi' after they were informed they would disembark in Malta, in international waters off Malta in the central Mediterranean Sea, September 10, 2019. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
File Photo: At least 251 people died attempting to cross the Atlantic route between January 1 and September 17 September 10, 2019. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

Senegal’s government has said it is worried about a “resurgence” of migrants hoping to reach Europe, after a disaster off the West African nation’s coast last week claimed lives.

In a statement published Monday, government spokesperson Ndeye Ticke Ndiaye Diop pointed to a rise in migrant vessels intercepted by the Senegalese navy this month.

On Friday, fuel drums aboard one of these traditional wooden boats caught fire 80 kilometres (49 miles) off the southern city of Mbour, the statement said.

The incident caused the death of “more than 10 youngsters”, Senegalese President Macky Sall said on Twitter, although local press reports put the death toll at several dozen people.

AFP was unable to independently confirm the number of dead.

Senegal’s navy said that it rescued 51 people, without specifying the original number of people aboard the boat.

“The government has noted with regret the resurgence of clandestine emigration by sea,” the statement said, adding that patrols had rescued 388 people at sea between October 7 and Friday alone.

West Africans desperate to get to Europe have increasingly opted to take the Atlantic route to the Spain’s Canary Islands in recent years, as authorities have clamped down on crossings from Libya.

The archipelago lies more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the coast of Africa at its closest point, but the route is perilous.

At least 251 people died attempting the crossing between January 1 and September 17, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), compared to 210 fatalities for the whole of last year.

In the northern Senegalese city of Saint-Louis, several families told AFP that they had heard no news from 14 of their relatives aboard the vessel that caught fire on Friday.

Ousmane Djigo, a Saint-Louis resident, said his brother boarded the vessel after his friends told him he would arrive in Spain without problems.

“There was only one choice left to my big brother, to emigrate to earn a living,” he said.

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