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Migrants turn to Mauritania as new EU transit route – DW – 06/10/2024

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Lala grew up in Senegal and Mauritania, where she has long dreamed of a better life.

She had saved enough money to pay for a pirogue — a traditional fishing boat that human traffickers use for their businesses.

The small fishing boat was to take her from the capital, Nouakchott, to Spain’s Canary Islands. She was looking forward to a future in the EU.

But the journey was treacherous, she told DW, as she struggled to recount her ordeal.

“There were all sorts of nationalities. Malians, Cameroonians, Nigerians, Mauritanians, Senegalese. The police themselves came to take us to the beach,” Lala said.

According to her, the small boats brought to take the migrants can accommodate only 20 people.

Migrant boats often overloaded

“Not everyone could get on because there were so many of us, more than 100 or so people. Only 80 were lucky enough to get on,” she said.

“I’ve seen people who almost went mad. Sometimes people fought with each other, but the captains have big knives, they threaten you and tell you to shut up or they’ll throw you on the beach and they’re not kidding.”

But Lala’s ordeal didn’t end after she managed to get on board the boat transporting them across the sea. After four days at sea, drifting without fuel, she and other migrants ended up on a beach in northern Mauritania, where they were held by authorities.

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The foreign nationals among them were deported, but Lala, as a Mauritanian, was released.

“I haven’t been able to sleep since I got back. When I sleep, I feel like I’m still in the boat rocking in the sea. Even when I close my eyes like this, I feel like I’m swinging in the sea,” Lala told DW.

Lala was unable to reach Europe as she had anticipated. The crossing she attempted is one of the world’s most dangerous migratory routes. 

EU-Mauritania deal aims to stop migrants

In April, the EU granted €210 million ($226 million) in aid to Mauritania, nearly €60 million of which will be invested in the fight against illegal immigration to Europe. Between January and March this year alone, around 12,393 migrants disembarked on the Spanish archipelago.

In the same period last year, only 2,178 migrants arrived in the Canary Islands. Over 80% of the boats that carried the migrants departed from Mauritania or transited through its waters.

The EU is struggling to secure agreements with countries like Tunisia and Niger, who, in the past, helped to stop some of these migrant journeys.

In addition, many migrants, mostly from the Central Sahel and the Gulf of Guinea, are picking Nouadhibou in Mauritania’s northwest, making it a migratory crossroads and transit city. In this city of 140,0000 inhabitants, some 30,000 are migrants.

Thousands of African migrants have been making the dangerous trip to Canary IslandsImage: Europa Press/AP/picture alliance

Ali, a fisherman, knows all too well how these illegal migrations happen. He has seen the hopeful and the desperate taking their leave by night — 50 migrants, cramming themselves into a fishing boat designed for a crew of six, he told DW.

On his phone, he showed DW pictures of some migrants who had died trying to reach EU shores.

“Look, someone sent me this photo of a dead person. These are corpses. Look, there’s a little baby here,” he said.

The port of Nouadhibou has become a center trading in these traditional fishing boats for human traffickers.

However, one human smuggler who chose to conceal his identity said there are restrictions and controls to the movement of the boats.

“You can put a lot of people in it [the fishing boats]. You saw it. For this kind of pirogue there are controls to see if they’re going fishing — or for something else,” he said.

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EU needs friendly migration policies

Tumenta Kennedy, a migration analyst, told DW that Europe needs to review its migration policies to make them friendlier for young Africans currently choosing dangerous paths to Europe.

“Getting to go to Germany, France or Belgium to study is a nightmare,” Kennedy said. “Not because you are rejected, but because to get an appointment to go through the legal means to get an appointment to the embassies to be interviewed, to be given the opportunity to express yourself is a nightmare.”

Thousands of migrants continue to arrive in Mauritania, hoping to make the journey despite the risks and controls.

Mohamed, a welder, arrived in Nouadhibou with the aim of reaching Europe. As a day laborer, he earns the equivalent of €10 (about $11) a day, which he spends on food, water and somewhere to live.

“You’ve seen the people here; we’re looking for work. It’s not easy. Morning and night we come and work. We don’t earn. I’ve been here two months. I work everywhere,” he told DW.

And Lala, despite everything she has suffered and the huge sums of money she has spent, is also determined to try again. For her, despite the horrible memories of being at sea, she would do it all again to get to Europe, where she hopes to earn a decent living.

Edited by: Chrispin Mwakideu

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