58 asylum seekers drown off coast of Africa

58 asylum seekers drown off coast of Africa

Friday, December 06, 2019

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NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania (AP) — The drowning of at least 58 migrants in the Atlantic Ocean off Mauritania sent despair through tiny Gambia yesterday, while some demanded a crackdown on human traffickers after one of this year's deadliest disasters among young Africans trying to reach Europe.

At least 83 survivors swam through rough seas to shore after their boat capsized Wednesday. They had been trying to reach Spain's Canary Islands but diverted toward Mauritania as fuel and food ran low, the UN migration agency said.

The boat, which the UN said was carrying an estimated 150 migrants, including children, had tossed on the Atlantic Ocean for a week.

As the survivors, 10 of them children, recovered from shock, authorities continued to search for an unknown number of missing people. Mauritanian officials said 10 people were receiving “urgent” hospital treatment.

All were being cared for in accordance with “human solidarity, fraternity and African hospitality”, Interior Minister Mohamed Salem Could Merzoug said, adding that Mauritania will investigate those responsible for “this drama”, including possible trafficking networks.

“A doctor from the UN migration agency was on his way in Nouakchott Thursday to support local medical efforts, while the agency was providing first aid kits, blankets and other supplies, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Gambia's President Adama Barrow expressed “great sadness” as his Government said most of the survivors were Gambians. Six of the 19 Senegalese passengers survived.

Tens of thousands of young people have set off from Gambia in recent years in hopes of reaching Europe, many fleeing former President Yahya Jammeh's oppressive rule that severely affected the country's economy. Since Jammeh fled into exile in January 2017 after a surprise election loss, European countries have been pushing to return asylum seekers.

But the exodus from the coastal West African nation continues. The collapse of British travel company Thomas Cook this year led to an emergency meeting by Gambia's Government as some said the sudden drop in tourists could be devastating for the economy.

Survivors said the boat that capsized had left Gambia on November 27.

Back home, there was outrage and despair.

“It is just sad. There is nothing we can do,” said Pa Sallah, a shopkeeper outside the capital, Banjul. Sallah's son, Momodou Sallah, left Gambia two years ago for Europe, but it is believed he took the “back way” through the Sahara Desert instead. That route carries the risk of being sold into slavery in Libya, the last stop before a Mediterranean crossing on which thousands have died.

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