The most fatal shipwreck of the year has been recorded by the United Nations as at least 140 migrants drowned off the coast of Senegal. Just hours after departing the town of Mbour for the Canary Islands, the boat containing the migrants caught fire and capsized, leaving many stranded to drown.
With the help of nearby local fishermen, the Senegalese and Spanish navies were able to rescue and save the lives of 60 people onboard. The route from West Africa to the Canary Islands has historically been a popular passageway for many trying to escape poverty. In recent years, authorities have managed to stem the flow of those making the dangerous journey but there has been a surge in those attempting it over the past twelve months.
“At least 140 people have drowned after a vessel carrying around 200 migrants sank off the Senegalese coast, the deadliest shipwreck recorded in 2020,” the International Organization for Migration said in a statement. Authorities in Spain have increased the amount of patrols in recent times in a bid to stop people attempting the perilous trip, but data has revealed that migrant arrivals from West Africa to the Canary Islands have increased by more than 400% this year to around 11,000, compared to the same figures last year.
The International Organization for Migration has reported that fourteen boats left Senegal for the Canary Islands in September alone, carrying with them over 650 migrants. Over a quarter of the migrants experienced either a shipwreck or incident of some kind. “We call for unity between governments, partners and the international community to dismantle trafficking and smuggling networks that take advantage of desperate youth,” said Bakary Doumbia, IOM’s representative in Senegal.
In a similar incident, a Kurdish-Iranian family has died after their boat capsized in the English Channel while they were attempting to escape poverty. Poor weather conditions made the already dangerous journey near impossible and ensured that the family had virtually no chance of survival. The family were warned prior to leaving of the risk to life they were about to endure but the family felt their situation dire enough to take the risk. Rasuol Iran-Nejad and his wife Shiva Mohammed Panahi, both 35-years-old, drowned alongside two of their children, six-year-old Armin and nine-year-old Anita.
The third child, Artin, is only 15 months old and is considered still missing at sea. Choman Manish said he had spoken to the family most days while they were staying at their makeshift home in a jungle camp on the outskirts of Dunkirk, France. “I’m really so sad because I know this family. I advised them, please don’t go by boat, it’s not good and a really bad situation if you stay in the water.
“I said, it will be bad for you. They told me God is big. I know God is big, but what can I do. I told them many times, but they never accepted my word. They trusted in God, they think God will protect them. Everyone is really sad over here. We are very sorry for hearing that, but what can we do.” Those onboard the migrant boat were attempting to get into the UK via the channel even though winds were blowing at speeds of up to 18mph with wave conditions almost unbearable. The vessel was seen to be in trouble and French patrol boats and a helicopter were dispatched, while civilian boats also came to their attempted rescue.
Clare Moseley, founder of refugee charity Care4Calais, said the “horrifying” incident should be a “wake-up call” for leaders in the UK and France. “We are grieving for the victims, we stand in sympathy and solidarity with their families and friends,” she said. “It is cruel and horrifying that, this time, young children are among the victims.” She added: “We have to provide a safe and legal process by which refugees can have their UK asylum claims heard, that’s the way to put an end to terrifying, dangerous sea crossings and stop tragedy striking again.” Mr. Manish has been present at the so-called jungle in Dunkirk for longer than four months, along with over 500 other migrants that are all looking to reach the UK safely.
Many migrants at the camp are Kurdish and knew some of those that have died, causing mass upset when the tragic news was broken.
According to Manish, people will continue to try and get across the channel into the UK and will still try it in small boats, despite the harsh conditions over the winter months. A large part of the reason for this is the conditions in the French camp, described by some as squalid. Consistent, heavy rain over the past weeks has ensured that the camp has transformed into a mud bath with almost unlivable conditions.