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City of Banjul
Friday, January 22, 2021

Back-way is back. So are the deaths

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In December 2019, when preparations for Christmas and New Year were in full swing, Gambians woke up to the biggest boat tragedy in the country’s history.

 

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At least 62 migrants, majority of them Gambians, died when their makeshift vessel capsized off the coast of Mauritania.

 

The boat was attempting to reach Spain’s Canary Islands – a perilous and poorly-monitored route along West Africa’s coast – when their boat hit a rock.

 

The tragedy was too close to home. Gambians, especially those living in the bustling town of Barra where the boat began the journey, mourned and begged for answers.

 

The Gambia never experienced such tragedy, at least not in recent memory. Due to the magnitude of the loss, we all thought it would be a deterrent for intending migrants. How wrong were we?

 

In August 2020, at least three migrants died after a fire broke out on a boat carrying around 20 people during rescue operations off the southern coast of Italy. Each time a boat capsizes, we collectively talk about it for days and then move on. No actions.

 

In October 2020, at least hundred people were believed to have drowned off the coast of Senegal when a fishing boat carrying migrants who were hoping to reach Spain’s Canary Islands sank after an explosion on board. Dozens of them, including children, tried to stay afloat for hours while they waited for help. It is sad to see that even children find Africa so dry and so uncomfortable that they run away from it while risking their lives in the process. The continent is not at peace!

 

For weeks now, reports of boats in the seas as close as Bakau, have been everywhere, a couple even reported in this medium. But the lethargy in our approaches to stem the tide of irregular migration is amazing. So back-way is back again, as feared. Hundreds of Gambians, including women have got no fear in the journey now, either through the Mediterranean or the desert. It’s appealing, and no longer dangerous for them.

 

Before, intending migrants would pay and still go through hell just to reach Tripoli, Libya where they would again pay for the rackety boat to Lampedusa. Between Gambia and Libya, there have been persistent risks of kidnapping by militias who would then ask for a ransom. Some even lost their lives or scarred for life as a result of harsh treatment from their captors.

 

However, for majority of them now, all they do is pay for a boat trip straight to Spain in maximum seven days. Yes, SEVEN DAYS to Europe.

 

Regardless of the number of days in the seas, together with its attendant risks of capsize or explosion, migrants have found it more ideal and a lot safer than going through Libya. This has made the journey more appealing but, if the reports are anything to go by, the graveyard in the seas is getting bigger too.

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