Tragic Tide: Senegalese Beaches Conceal Unmarked Graves as Migrant Disappearances Soar
Tragic Tide: Senegalese Beaches Conceal Unmarked Graves as Migrant Disappearances Soar

Saint louis: Small sand mounds that dot the northern Senegal beach blend in with the surroundings. However, a thick rope protrudes from the piles. Green netting is strewn on top of the nearby black plastic bag fragments.
Residents of Saint-Louis, a small fishing town, claim to know the location of the bodies in this manner.

Unknown numbers of West African migrants who are increasingly trying to make the perilous crossing of parts of the Atlantic to reach Europe are buried in these unmarked beach graves, according to Senegalese authorities, people living along the coast, and people who have survived failed boat trips, who spoke to The Associated Press.

Lawyers and human rights experts claim that when bodies wash ashore or are discovered by fishermen at sea, they are buried by the authorities without any indication that the deaths were documented or looked into as required by Senegalese and international law. The majority of buried people's families will never learn what happened to their loved ones.

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Even though the journey from West Africa to Spain is among the most hazardous in the world, the number of migrants sailing from Senegal on flimsy wooden boats has increased over the past 12 months. As a result, more people will go missing and die. Over the past month, relatives, activists, and officials have reported hundreds of deaths, though exact numbers are difficult to confirm.

The increases coincide with pressure from the European Union on the nations of North and West Africa to stop migrant crossings. Senegal, like the majority of countries in the area, doesn't disclose much information about border crossings, the migrants who attempt the journey, or those who perish while doing so.

However, the International Organisation for Migration reports that in the first half of the year, at least 2,300 migrants left Senegal in an effort to travel to Spain's Canary Islands, more than doubling from the same period in 2022. Around 1,100 people arrived in the Canaries, according to a Spanish official who spoke to AP on the condition of anonymity because the numbers weren't authorised for release.

The fate of the more than 1,000 individuals who were turned away from Spain is unknown. They might have perished at sea, been saved from sinking boats, or be in custody of the law. Senegal detained 725 migrants through the month of June, according to Maham Ka, a spokesman for the interior ministry. However, officials declined to say whether the nine vessels involved had yet to leave shore.

The AP was informed by Saint-Louis officials that bodies are occasionally buried on the beach. They claimed that it only occurs with the local prosecutor's approval and that the bodies are typically gravely decomposed.
Amadou Fall, the fire brigade commander for three regions in northern Senegal, questioned the need to take the body to the mortuary given that no one could identify it.

In Saint-Louis, the prosecutor would not confirm that burials had been authorised or whether any inquiries had been made into the deaths. The justice ministry in Senegal, which is in charge of investigating fatalities, was not reachable by phone or text.

The silence can be agonising for families. The 19- and 24-year-old nephews of Mouhamed Niang vanished a month ago. He claimed that despite filing missing person reports, authorities gave him no updates. When boats were found or bodies washed up on the shore, friends would let him know. To speak with authorities or visit the mortuary, he would take the three-hour bus ride from Mbour in the north to Saint-Louis.
According to him, he is aware of the bodies on the beach. His worst worry was that they might include the young men.
Niang, 51, stated that "They are people." "They ought to be interred where people are interred,"

Pirogues, which are lengthy, vibrant wooden boats, take about eight days to travel from Saint-Louis to Spain if all goes well. Saint-Louis, which borders Mauritania, serves as a major departures hub. There, the beach is now marked in places by pieces of the black plastic that resembled mortuary body bags and the knotted rope that seems to hold whatever is beneath the sand in place.

The Canary Islands have once more emerged as a major entry point for people travelling to Europe in recent years. In the past, the majority of boats left from Morocco, Western Sahara, and Mauritania, with less leaving from Senegal. That changed this year. According to the Spanish official who spoke to the AP, Mauritania's numbers dropped last year as a result of pressure from local authorities with support from Spain on the ground. Even if they are longer and more hazardous, alternatives are often sought after when one route is closed.

In a region plagued by coups and insecurity, Senegal has long been seen as a beacon of democratic stability. However, tension is rising, with at least 23 people killed last month during protests between opposition supporters and police. Others point out that the majority of those leaving are young Senegalese men, who claim that poverty and a lack of employment are what motivate them. Some blame the rising migration on political unrest.

Papa, 29, arrived in the Canaries this month after a boat trip during which the engine broke down, food ran out, and fights broke out. "There's no freedom in Senegal," he claimed.

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He claimed that because of Senegal's political issues, he is looking for asylum in Spain. He described how he and other protesters against President Macky Sall were shot at by police. He and other Senegalese who were among the hundreds who recently made it to the Canaries blamed Sall's administration for the country's high unemployment rate, faltering economy, and rising food prices.

"The salaries are poor, and the price of rice is too high. Papa, a Senegalese man with two wives and eight children to support, said, "You need a lot of money to eat. Papa, who was wearing a bracelet bearing the name of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, only provided his first name due to worries about being deported.

Spain and Senegal have been collaborating to stop migrant boats since 2006. Arrivals to the Canaries reached their highest point that year with 30,000+ visitors, many of whom were Senegalese. In order to support local authorities, Spain's national police and civil guard are currently stationed in Senegal. The EU's Emergency Trust Fund for Africa also gave Senegal more than $190 million for initiatives addressing the underlying causes of migration.

However, locals claim that not much has changed.
El Hadji Dousse Fall of the Organisation for the Fight Against Clandestine Immigration, which tries to discourage young people from crossing the sea and instructs them about legal migration options, said that between May and July, about 30 boats left Saint-Louis for Europe and about 10 of them sank. However, many people already have their minds made up.

They have a saying', Fall said while using some of the regional Wolof. "Barca or Barsakh" means "Die for Barcelona."

Information on how many people are missing while attempting to cross that section of the Atlantic is withheld by Senegalese authorities. They occasionally deny reports of missing people; this month, the Spanish human rights organisation Walking Borders raised the alarm about 300 Senegalese going missing; the government denied the claims.

According to a local official who closely cooperates with law enforcement but insisted on anonymity out of fear of retaliation, beach burials have been occurring for years but have dramatically increased in 2023, with about 300 bodies in the first seven months compared with just over 100 for the entire year.

The boat capsized a few days into the trip, according to Ibnou Diagne, 35. A teen passenger was stabbed in the stomach by a piece of broken boat wood as he was falling into the water.

But the memories of his longtime friend Abdourahmane, who drowned, are what trouble him the most. Every night when I go to sleep, Abdourahmane's face and image appear in front of me, he claimed.

The other survivor claimed that after the rescue, he ran away, getting out of the car to hide after being taken in for questioning. He described waking up at 4 a.m. to his boat being launched in the air after hitting a large wave while speaking under the condition of anonymity for fear of being detained once more.

After being thrown into the water but still being able to swim, he secured himself to a smaller nearby boat and waited for help. He boarded the boat with two friends who perished. He called their mothers a few days later to inform them that their sons had died. He claimed that if it weren't for him, the families wouldn't know what had happened to the men.

Senegal has ratified a number of international agreements, such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and the Global Compact on Migration, to ensure the proper handling of arbitrary killings and disappearances, as well as the identification of the deceased and notification of their families.

Even if a body has decomposed, it is still necessary to take all reasonable steps to identify the individual and look for assistance if available resources are insufficient, according to Judith Sunderland of Human Rights Watch.

She argued that it was totally unacceptable for state officials to bury people without looking into the circumstances of their passing or making an effort to identify them.

To stop the tide of migration, according to Boubacar Tiane Balde, head of the regional anti-smuggling branch in Saint-Louis, is difficult because there are new cases every day. Smugglers, who are paid by migrants to cross the border, are also well-established in the neighbourhood.

Having clear information is the first challenge, according to Balde. "Not everyone wants to work together."

Some claim that officials aren't sincere about enforcing the law. According to a smuggler who insisted on anonymity out of concern for his safety, many boats bribe maritime authorities, sometimes paying $1,700 to get through. He claimed that in order to avoid detection, he shuttles passengers in smaller boats so that it appears as though they are simply fishing, and for safety, he has reduced the number of passengers allowed from 140 to 80.

Such actions offer little solace to people who have missing relatives.
Niang was summoned to the mortuary during his fourth trip to Saint-Louis to look for his nephews. However, the men were absent. Authorities later got in touch with their mother, Niang's sister. They requested that she and her husband create a photo ID. They recognised their son's body from the ring and long hair on it.

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The whereabouts of his brother are still unknown. The fact that they are not alone in their sorrow does not offer much comfort.
"I see people looking for relatives who have gone missing at sea every day," Niang said. Some of them hold funeral services without the remains.

The family will take a trip to Saint Louis before returning home with the body. A single funeral service with prayers for both brothers will be held.


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