After braving the Atlantic on a rickety and overcrowded fishing boat for six days, a group of young Senegalese spent weeks in a three-star hotel in the Canary Islands, overlooking a spectacular beach lapped by pristine waters.

While relieved to have survived their perilous journey to the Canary Islands, which has become the most deadly crossing from Africa into Europe for migrants, the six young men also knew that their hotel stay was not a fairy-tale end to their odyssey.

''After the crazy trip, I am happy to be alive, but I really have no idea how long I can stay here and where I can go next,'' said Ousseynou Diop, 19, who boarded the fishing boat in the Senegalese port of Louis on Nov. 1 and arrived at the hotel 10 days later.

About 20,000 migrants have reached the Canary Islands so far this year, despite several deadly shipwrecks off Senegal and other African countries, as well as some that occurred just as the boats were reaching the shores of the Spanish archipelago.

More than 565 died here while crossing from Africa to the Spanish islands between January and late November, according to the International Organization for Migration.

The sudden influx of migrants has caught the Spanish authorities flat  footed, even though rights activists and other experts had been warning that traffickers were likely to divert to the Canary Islands after an increase in patrols virtually shut down many Mediterranean routs into Europe notably those from Libya.

Said, 16, and his cousin Mohammed, 17, left their town of EI Kelaa des Srarhna, northeast of the tourism hub of Marrakesh, to reach Dakhla, in the Western Sahara, where they then boarded a boat bound for the Canary Islands.

Said said his elder brother paid traffickers about Euro 1,000 for the trip. ''The young people in Morocco can now only look forward to misery, because there is the coronavirus, so really no way to work and earn money,'' said Said, whose full name cannot be disclosed under Spanish rules that protect the underage migrants.

Said and his cousin are in a youth center with a makeshift prayer area, a soccer pitch and  leafy surroundings in the grounds of an abandoned farm house.

Like all his companions from Senegal in the Puerto Rico hotel, Mr. Diop barely spent time at school and instead became a fisherman when he was 12.

However, he said he struggled to survive the Covid-19 restrictions hurting the local fishing industry, already under pressure from Chinese trawlers operating in Senegalese waters.

Mr. Diop said he had left Senegal without telling his family and now hoped to get travel documents to reach Madrid, whose most famous soccer team, Real Madrid, he loves.

But underlining his lack of preparation, he sounded surprised to learn that Madrid was a landlocked capital.

''If I cannot fish in Madrid, I will do anything else that gets me money,'' he said. ''I don't recommend that anybody try to get to the islands like I did by boat - it's far too dangerous - but I also don't want to be back in Senegal, where we sold our sea to the Chinese.''

The World Students Society thanks author Raphael Minder.


Post a Comment

Grace A Comment!