The Guardian reports on the industry that has grown around clandestine immigration from West Africa to Spain.  Areas of Senegal are becoming ports of call for Africans who, throwing caution to the wind, board flimsy vessels with the hope of reaching the nearest piece of European soil.

 Now the village [of Diogue] economy has found a new source of income: emigration. The hopefuls have to stock up on water, food and other supplies for the voyage, which can take two weeks. There are bargains to be had as the young men who are leaving sell anything they will not be needing where they are going – local currency is exchanged for euros at less than the going rate and mobile phones are dirt cheap. Many struggling fishermen have sold their pirogues to people-smugglers. But once the money has been spent, they find themselves with no way to make a living.

Africans are making harrowing journeys out into the ocean, hoping to find their way to the Canary Islands.  These trips are make-or-break propositions, costing a lifetime’s savings, and threatening lives themselves.

Forsten, Edward and Isaac are a little less fearless. They are from Ghana, but have been in Gambia for the past year, working on a building site to save the 400,000 CFA francs, the currency of Senegal and other former French colonies, charged for the trip to Europe (about £400).

All Forsten has with him is a half-filled plastic bag of his belongings. He is aware of the dangers of going to Spain in a pirogue, but he says that he has no choice – his life in Ghana is little more than a day-to-day struggle for survival, ‘and I can’t see that ever changing’.

Edward and Isaac managed to get on a boat leaving from Diogue, and were off the coast of Mauritania when a huge storm blew up. Everyone in the boat – including the ‘captain’ – was so terrified that they decided to head back to Senegal. Two people died in the course of the voyage from exhaustion and sickness. Their bodies were thrown overboard. ‘It was like we had become animals,’ Edward says afterwards. ‘I realised that it wasn’t worth degrading ourselves, and risking our lives just to get to Europe, even though it means the end of our hopes of finding a way out of the dead end we are in. There is no work for us back home.’ They know that the jobs they left in Gambia to go to Diogue will have been filled by others.

Not only have they lost their dream of a better life, Edward and Isaac have also lost the money that they had worked for a year to save up – the man who organised the voyage refused to reimburse them. Now they set off on the long journey back to Ghana. Isaac has a Spanish phrasebook tucked into his plastic bag. Will they make another attempt, once they have got some more money together? ‘When we were on that boat we saw into the pit,’ he says. ‘We were so tightly packed in there that no one could move. There were a number of us who couldn’t speak to anyone, because we didn’t share the same language. After the storm the supplies of food and water began to run out. Most of us had never been at sea before. We were ill and scared, and then the people started dying…’ His voice trails off. ‘I can’t describe how awful it was. Nothing is worth that.’

Read the article for more testimonials.

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