As more migrants go missing at sea, many say bodies end up on Senegal’s beaches in unmarked graves

As more migrants go missing at sea, many say bodies end up on Senegal’s beaches in unmarked graves
Firefighters transport a body away from the beach of Ouakam, where a boat transporting migrants, attempting irregular immigration, has run aground off the coast, Dakar, Senegal, July 24, 2023. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 28 July 2023
Follow

As more migrants go missing at sea, many say bodies end up on Senegal’s beaches in unmarked graves

As more migrants go missing at sea, many say bodies end up on Senegal’s beaches in unmarked graves

SAINT-LOUIS, Senegal: The small mounds of sand that dot the beach in northern Senegal blend into the terrain. But thick rope juts out from beneath the piles. Pieces of black plastic bags are scattered nearby, and green netting is strewn on top.
That’s how residents in the small fishing town of Saint-Louis say they know where the bodies lie.
These unmarked beach graves hold untold numbers of West African migrants who are increasingly attempting the treacherous journey across parts of the Atlantic to Europe, Senegalese authorities, residents along the coast and survivors of failed boat trips told The Associated Press.
Bodies wash ashore or are found by fishermen at sea, then are buried by authorities with no clarity as to whether the deaths are documented or investigated as required by Senegalese and international law, according to lawyers and human rights experts. Most of the families of those buried will never know what happened to their loved ones.
The route from West Africa to Spain is one of the world’s most dangerous, yet the number of migrants leaving from Senegal on rickety wooden boats has surged over the past year. That means more missing people and deaths — relatives, activists and officials have reported hundreds over the past month, though exact figures are difficult to verify.
The increases come amid European Union pressure for North and West African countries to stop migrant crossings. Like most nations in the region, Senegal releases little information about the crossings, the migrants who attempt the trip or those who die trying.
But according to the International Organization for Migration, at least 2,300 migrants left Senegal trying to reach Spain’s Canary Islands in the first six months of the year, doubling the number from the same period in 2022. A Spanish official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the figures weren’t authorized for release, told AP that about 1,100 arrived in the Canaries.
It’s unclear what happened to the 1,000-plus people who didn’t make it to Spain. They may have died at sea, been rescued from capsized boats or be held by authorities. Through June, Senegal detained 725 migrants, said interior ministry spokesman Maham Ka, though officials wouldn’t say whether the nine vessels involved had left shore yet.
Authorities in Saint-Louis admitted to AP that bodies are sometimes buried on the beach. They said it happens only when approved by the local prosecutor — and usually the bodies are severely decomposed.
“Why take it to the morgue since no one can recognize it?” said Amadou Fall, fire brigade commander for three northern Senegal regions.
The prosecutor in Saint-Louis wouldn’t respond to questions about approval of burials or say whether investigations were opened into the deaths. AP phoned and texted Senegal’s justice ministry, responsible for investigating deaths, but received no response.
For families, the silence can be agonizing. Mouhamed Niang’s 19- and 24-year-old nephews went missing a month ago. He filed missing-person reports, he said, but got no updates from authorities. Friends alerted him when boats were recovered or bodies washed ashore. He’d make the three-hour bus trip from Mbour north to Saint-Louis to check with officials or visit the morgue.
He told AP he knows about the bodies on the beach. His worst fear: that the young men were among them.
“They are human beings,” Niang, 51, said. “They should be buried where human beings are buried.”
If the journey goes smoothly, reaching Spain takes about eight days from Saint-Louis on pirogues — long, colorful wooden boats. Saint-Louis, bordering Mauritania, is a key hub for departures. There, the beach is now marked in parts with remnants of the black plastic resembling body bags from the morgue and the knotted rope that appears to secure what lies beneath the sand.
In recent years, the Canary Islands have again become a main gateway for those trying to reach Europe. Previously, most boats traveled from Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauritania, with fewer from Senegal. This year, that changed. The Spanish official who spoke to AP said numbers from Mauritania plummeted last year following pressure by local authorities with on-the-ground Spanish support. When one route is cut off, migrants tend to look for alternatives, even if they’re longer and more dangerous.
Senegal has long been regarded as a beacon of democratic stability in a region riddled with coups and insecurity, but tension is mounting, with at least 23 killed last month during protests between opposition supporters and police. Some cite political strife for surging migration; others note that most who leave are young Senegalese men who say poverty and a lack of jobs drive them.
“There’s no freedom in Senegal,” said Papa, 29, who made it to the Canaries this month after a boat journey during which the engine failed, food ran out and fights erupted.
He said he’s seeking asylum in Spain because of Senegal’s political problems. He described police shooting at people like him who took to the streets to oppose President Macky Sall. He and others among the hundreds of Senegalese who made it to the Canaries in recent weeks blamed unemployment, a struggling economy and rising food prices on Sall’s administration.
“The salaries are not good, rice is too expensive. You need a lot of money to eat,” said Papa, who has two wives and children to feed in Senegal. Wearing a bracelet with the name of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, Papa gave only his first name, citing fears about deportation.
Since 2006, Spain has worked with Senegal to crack down on migrant boats. That year, Canaries arrivals first peaked, with 30,000-plus people — many of them Senegalese. Today, Spain’s national police and civil guard are deployed in Senegal to assist local authorities. Senegal also received more than $190 million from the EU’s Emergency Trust Fund for Africa for programs aimed at addressing the root causes of migration.
But residents here say little has improved.
From May to July, about 30 boats left Saint-Louis for Europe and about 10 sank, said El Hadji Dousse Fall, of the Organization for the Fight Against Clandestine Immigration, which tries to prevent youths from crossing the sea and teaches them about legal migration pathways. Still, many have already made up their minds.
“They have a saying,” Fall said, speaking partly in the local Wolof language. “Barca or Barsakh” — Barcelona or die.
Senegalese officials won’t give data on how many people are unaccounted for trying to cross that stretch of the Atlantic. Sometimes, they refute reports of missing people — this month, Spanish rights group Walking Borders rang the alarm that 300 Senegalese were missing, and the government called the statements unfounded.
The beach burials have happened for years but skyrocketed for 2023, with about 300 bodies in the first seven months, compared with just over 100 for all of 2022, according to a local official who works closely with authorities and insisted on anonymity for fear of reprisal.
Locals say the government tries to hide the scale of the problem because it tarnishes Senegal’s reputation.
“It’s a sign of failure that undermines the government’s public policy record,” said Alioune Tine, founder of West African think tank Afrikajom Center.
During a visit to Saint-Louis, AP spoke with two survivors of attempted trips. The men departed within days of each other, from Mbour in early July. Both boats got lost and capsized at the mouth of the Saint-Louis river, where waves swell and conditions can turn volatile. One survivor saw another boat capsize minutes after his.
The men said that of about 420 people aboard the three vessels, roughly 60 were rescued.
Ibnou Diagne, 35, said the boat capsized days into the trip. He watched a piece of broken boat wood ram into the stomach of a teenage passenger, stabbing him before he fell into the sea.
But what haunts him most are memories of his longtime friend Abdourahmane, who drowned. “Everyday when I sleep, it’s Abdourahmane’s image and face that emerge in front of me,” he said.
The other survivor said he fled after the rescue — he was taken for questioning but got out of the car and hid. On condition of anonymity for fear of being detained again, he described waking at 4 a.m. to his boat being launched in the air upon hitting a giant wave.
Thrown into the water but able to swim, he anchored himself to a smaller nearby vessel and waited for rescue. Two friends who boarded with him drowned. Days later, he called their mothers to tell them their sons were dead. Without him, he said, the families would have no idea what happened to the men.
Senegal has agreed to several international accords, including The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and The Global Compact on Migration, to ensure the investigation of disappearances and arbitrary deaths, identify the dead, and inform families.
Even if a body has decomposed, the obligation remains to do everything possible to identify the person and seek support if resources are lacking, said Judith Sunderland, of Human Rights Watch.
“It’s completely unacceptable for state authorities to bury people without investigating the causes of their deaths or attempting to identify them,” she said.
Boubacar Tiane Balde, chief of the anti-smuggling regional branch in Saint-Louis, said stemming the tide of migration is challenging, with new cases daily. And smugglers, paid by migrants to get across the border, are embedded in the community.
“The biggest difficulty is first to have clear information,” Balde said. “Not everyone is willing to collaborate.”
Some say officials aren’t serious about cracking down. Many boats bribe authorities on the water, sometimes paying $1,700 to get through, said a smuggler who insisted on anonymity over fears for his safety. To stay undetected, he uses smaller boats to shuttle passengers so it appears they’re just fishing, he said, and for safety, he’s cut the number of passengers allowed to 80 from 140.
Such measures come as little comfort to those with missing relatives.
During Niang’s fourth visit to Saint-Louis to look for his nephews, he was called to the morgue. But the men weren’t there. Later, authorities reached out to their mother, Niang’s sister. They wanted her and her husband to make a photo identification. Based on a ring and his long hair, they knew the body was their son.
They still don’t know the fate of his brother. They aren’t alone in their grief, but that brings little solace.
“Every day I see people looking for relatives lost at sea,” Niang said. “Some of them conduct funerals without the bodies.”
The family will travel to Saint-Louis, then bring the body home. They’ll hold one funeral, with prayers for both brothers.


UN chief ‘condemns’ deadly Gaza aid delivery incident

UN chief ‘condemns’ deadly Gaza aid delivery incident
Updated 12 sec ago
Follow

UN chief ‘condemns’ deadly Gaza aid delivery incident

UN chief ‘condemns’ deadly Gaza aid delivery incident
UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “condemns” the deadly aid delivery incident in northern Gaza, in which Hamas says over 100 people were killed, his spokesperson said Thursday.
Desperate for food, thousands of Palestinians in Gaza City flocked to an aid distribution point early Thursday, only to be met with lethal chaos including live fire by Israeli troops.
An Israeli source has acknowledged that troops opened fire on the crowd, believing it “posed a threat,” but a spokesperson for the prime minister’s office also said that many people had been run over by the aid trucks.
United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the events “need to be investigated.”
“We don’t know exactly what happened but whether people were shot and died as a result of Israeli gunfire, whether they were crushed by a crowd, whether they were run over by truck, these are all acts of violence, in a sense, due to this conflict,” said Dujarric.
He said there was “no UN presence” at the scene and reiterated the secretary-general’s call for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the unconditional release of all hostages.”
“The desperate civilians in Gaza need urgent help, including those in the besieged north where the United Nations has not been able to deliver aid in more than a week,” Dujarric said, adding that Guterres was “appalled by the tragic human toll of the conflict.”

Four go on trial in France over 2018 Christmas market attack

Four go on trial in France over 2018 Christmas market attack
Updated 29 February 2024
Follow

Four go on trial in France over 2018 Christmas market attack

Four go on trial in France over 2018 Christmas market attack
  • The four men on trial in Paris are accused of crimes ranging from “terrorism” to helping supply weapons
  • The trial opened at the Paris court with the suspects confirming their names

PARIS: Four men went on trial on Thursday over a 2018 Christmas market attack in France’s eastern city of Strasbourg, with a key suspect insisting he did not know the plans of the radical Islamist who killed five people before being shot dead by police after a 48-hour manhunt.
The traditional Christmas market was in full swing on December 11 when Cherif Chekatt — a convicted criminal featured on a list of possible extremist security risks — opened fire on revellers, shouting “Allahu Akbar” (“God is Greatest” in Arabic).
The four men on trial in Paris are accused of crimes ranging from “terrorism” to helping supply weapons, including the 19th-century revolver Chekatt used in the attack.
The trial opened at the Paris court with the suspects confirming their names.
One of them, Audrey Mondjehi, faces the maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted of “terrorism.” The others risk 10 years imprisonment.
The trial, due to last until early April, is the latest legal process over the militant attacks that have hit France since 2015, with most of those in the dock accused of complicity since the actual perpetrators were generally killed while carrying out their attacks.
In December 2022, a Paris court convicted all eight suspects in the trial over a 2016 truck attack in the Mediterranean city of Nice, which left 86 dead, including the driver.
In the highest-profile case, 20 defendants were convicted in June 2022 over their roles in the November 2015 attack in the French capital, when 130 people were killed.
The Daesh group claimed the Strasbourg attack, but the then-French interior minister Christophe Castaner said it was taking credit for an attack it hadn’t planned.
A video pledging allegiance to the group was however found at the assailant’s home.
Of the accused only Mondjehi, 42, was charged with “terrorism,” while the three others — all in their 30s — face criminal conspiracy charges for their role in supplying weapons.
A fifth defendant, in his mid-80s, may be tried at a later date after a medical examination found his health was not compatible with taking part in the current long trial.
Mondjehi, a former cellmate of the assailant, played “a key role in supplying a weapon” by putting him in touch with sellers, and “could not have been unaware of, or may have even shared, all or part of Cherif Chekatt’s radical convictions,” according to the indictment.
Mondjehi told the court this was not true.
“Never could I have known that this weapon could have been for an attack,” he said.
His lawyer Michael Wacquez said he was concerned Mondjehi could be used as a scapegoat.
“Mondjehi should not be an outlet for the grief of the victims and should not be condemned because Cherif Chekatt is not there,” he said.
According to the investigation, there was no evidence of the other suspects having been aware of Chekatt’s plans.
Although Chekatt cannot now be brought to justice, survivors and relatives of victims said the trial was still crucial.
The attack “turned my whole life upside down,” said Mostafa Salhane, a 53-year-old former taxi driver who spent 15 terrifying minutes with Chekatt who climbed into his cab with a gun in his hand as he fled the scene.
A lawyer representing some of the families, Arnaud Friederich, said the trial was a “key moment” for his clients.
“There will be a before and an after,” he said.
Claude Lienhard, a lawyer for several dozen people, said there was a perception the investigation has been dragging on.
“There’s a fear that this will be a low-cost trial compared with other terror trials, as many feel they have been forgotten,” he said.
Audrey Wagner, who saw Chekatt wound one of her friends, said she expected proceedings to be “distressing” but important to “turn the page.”
Jean-Yves Bruckman, a now-retired firefighter who aided one of the victims said he needed answers “to heal.”
“One question keeps coming back to me: How can you kill someone like that?“


Italy foreign minister urges ‘immediate ceasefire’ in Gaza

Italy foreign minister urges ‘immediate ceasefire’ in Gaza
Updated 29 February 2024
Follow

Italy foreign minister urges ‘immediate ceasefire’ in Gaza

Italy foreign minister urges ‘immediate ceasefire’ in Gaza
  • “We strongly urge Israel to protect the people in Gaza and to rigorously ascertain facts and responsibilities,” Tajani said
  • The Israeli military said a “stampede” occurred when thousands of Gazans surrounded a convoy of 30 aid trucks, leading to dozens of deaths and injuries

ROME: Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani called Thursday for an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza and called on Israel to protect the Palestinian population after troops opened fire at an aid convoy.
“The tragic deaths in Gaza demand an immediate ceasefire to facilitate more humanitarian aid, the release of hostages and the protection of civilians,” he said on X, hours after the incident which the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory said killed 104 people.
“We strongly urge Israel to protect the people in Gaza and to rigorously ascertain facts and responsibilities,” he said.
The Israeli military said a “stampede” occurred when thousands of Gazans surrounded a convoy of 30 aid trucks, leading to dozens of deaths and injuries, including some who were run over by the lorries.
An Israeli source acknowledged troops had opened fire on the crowd, believing it “posed a threat.”
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni expressed her “deep dismay and concern” over the violence, calling on Israel to “urgently ascertain the dynamics of the incident and relative responsibilities.”
She also called for negotiation efforts to be “immediately intensified to create the conditions for a ceasefire” and the freeing of the hostages.


India’s economy grows at its fastest pace in six quarters in election boost for Modi

India’s economy grows at its fastest pace in six quarters in election boost for Modi
Updated 29 February 2024
Follow

India’s economy grows at its fastest pace in six quarters in election boost for Modi

India’s economy grows at its fastest pace in six quarters in election boost for Modi
  • India’s economy grew 8.4% in the October-December quarter, much faster than 6.6% estimate
  • India has beaten market expectations, is ranked as one of fastest-growing economies in the world

NEW DELHI: India’s economy grew at its fastest pace in one-and-half years in the final three months of 2023, led by strong manufacturing and construction activity and bolstering Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s economic record just months before a national election.
Asia’s third largest economy grew 8.4 percent in the October-December quarter, much faster than the 6.6 percent estimated by economists polled by Reuters and higher than the 7.6 percent recorded in the previous three months.
“The ongoing growth momentum is indicative of the Indian economy’s resilience, notwithstanding global headwinds,” said Sunil Kumar Sinha, economist at India Ratings, noting that industrial growth continued its good run in the quarter.
India has consistently beat market expectations and is ranked as one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, with China struggling to recover after the pandemic and the euro zone narrowly escaping a recession.
India revised its growth estimate for the current fiscal year to March 31 to 7.6 percent from 7.3 percent.
Such a strong showing in the last major economic data release before elections due by May could bolster Modi’s chances after he made high economic growth one of his main platforms at rallies across the country.
The December growth “shows the strength of Indian economy and its potential,” Modi said in a social media post.
Modi has sharply raised government spending on infrastructure and offered incentives to boost manufacturing of phones, electronics, drones and semiconductors to help India compete with likes of Vietnam and Thailand.
The manufacturing sector, which for the past decade has accounted for 17 percent of Asia’s third-largest economy, expanded 11.6 percent year-on-year in the December quarter, while investment growth was above 10 percent for the second consecutive quarter, and the construction sector grew by more than 9 percent.
“Manufacturing sector growth was supported by lower input costs,” said Rajani Sinha, Economist at CareEdge
Private consumption, accounting for 60 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), recovered slightly in the quarter, with a 3.5 percent year-on-year rise, compared with 2.4 percent in the previous three months.
Government spending contracted 3.2 percent year-on-year, compared with 1.4 percent growth in the previous quarter.
RURAL WEAKNESS
The farm sector, which accounts for about 15 percent of the $3.7 trillion economy, continued to struggle due to unfavorable monsoon rains. It contracted 0.8 percent in the December quarter, compared with 1.6 percent growth in the September quarter.
Slowing rural growth dragged down farm incomes and some farmers have hit the streets
demanding higher procurement prices.
Rural weakness has led to slower growth for major retail companies like Hindustan Unilever and Britannia Industries.
The pace of growth in real rural wages was around 1 percent in 2023 after contracting nearly 3 percent in the previous two years, according to ICRA, while average salaries in urban areas have been going up by nearly 10 percent a year.
However, policymakers remain optimistic about rural recovery.
“With the anticipated better value addition in the farm sector next financial year, rural demand growth and rural income growth will be even better and more evident in FY25,” country’s Chief Economic Adviser V Anantha Nageswaran said.


Indonesian artists seek to amplify Southeast Asian aesthetics at Art Dubai

Indonesian artists seek to amplify Southeast Asian aesthetics at Art Dubai
Updated 29 February 2024
Follow

Indonesian artists seek to amplify Southeast Asian aesthetics at Art Dubai

Indonesian artists seek to amplify Southeast Asian aesthetics at Art Dubai
  • 17th edition of Art Dubai runs from March 1-3 in Madinat Jumeirah
  • Over 65% of the fair’s presentations are from the Global South

Jakarta: Indonesian artists are hoping to amplify Southeast Asian aesthetics in the Middle East with their showcase at Art Dubai this week, where they will join a diverse group of Global South artists from 40 countries.

The 17th edition of Art Dubai, which runs from March 1 to 3 in Madinat Jumeirah, will showcase leading artists and galleries from developing countries, as it seeks to provide a platform for art from typically underrepresented regions and communities. This year, over 65 percent of its presentations are drawn from the Global South.

Indonesia’s artists, represented by various galleries such as Gajah Gallery and Yeo Workshop, are among a group of Southeast Asian creatives presenting works focused on the region’s heritage.

Erizal As, a painter from Indonesia’s West Sumatra province, is hoping that Dubai will help boost the global visibility of his, and other Southeast Asian artists’ work.

“I am indeed hopeful to garner greater recognition in the Middle East, a region experiencing rapid growth and burgeoning appreciation for the arts. I am confident that the universal themes and expressive depth of my work will resonate with the discerning Gulf audience, fostering a meaningful dialogue transcending cultural boundaries,” Erizal told Arab News on Thursday.

“I also think that the inclusion of more Indonesian and Southeast Asian artists may bring a fresh perspective to the local art scene … Maybe the different visual language that we bring actually has the same soul or essence as what Dubai has been feeling and communicating through their arts. The two visual languages can communicate with each other.”

After spending the COVID-19 years painting outdoors in the West Sumatra mountains, Erizal returned to his studio to transform his experiences into a series of abstract paintings, presenting various forms through texture and strokes, to capture the essence of nature. Some of those works are being showcased in Dubai this week.

“With my recent creations, my foremost aspiration is to evoke contemplation on the intrinsic essence of nature, spirituality, and the profound energy that permeates our existence,” Erizal said.

Yunizar, who is also from West Sumatra and is known for his childlike creations seeking to capture the psyche of ordinary individuals, will present his paintings and bronze sculptures at Art Dubai.

“My work depicts my observations of life around me. I mix visualizations of objects with things that are fantastical in nature,” Yunizar told Arab News.

Indonesian artist Yunizar working on his “Detail of Bonsai,” 2021. (Gajah Gallery)

He believes in the “common relatability towards art between humankind everywhere” and hopes to amplify the reach of his work at the international art fair.

“Dubai, in my opinion, has a burgeoning art scene with a rich cultural background that can support the development of new visual trajectories. Showcasing my work on such a global scale, I can only strive and attempt to deliver my best work,” he said.

“I believe that my work transcends cultural boundaries and reverberate with viewers from diverse backgrounds. In terms of quality, my work is not less than that of artists from other regions, such as those from Europe. And with its rich visual language and unmistakable Southeast Asian essence, in my opinion, my art will find resonance among the Gulf audience, fostering meaningful dialogue and appreciation for art across borders.”