At dawn, the people in the canoe saw the silhouette of an island emerging on the horizon after that night adrift, and it didn’t matter which one it was, because everyone instantly understood what it meant in a situation like theirs, so they The bravest among the 77 men left on board jumped into the water in search of help. They were never heard from.
In the challenge that has posed for Maritime Rescue, the Red Cross and all humanitarian care services of Canary Islands the arrival of nearly 15,000 people in just 30 dayseverything has happened so quickly that the unprecedented numbers and the urgency to quickly decongest frontline resources have relegated to the background the suspicion that dozens of lives were being lost.
In fact, in its count until October 20, The United Nations Organization for Migration (IOM) only had seven deaths recorded on the way to the Canary Islands (431 in all of 2023)when the mortality rate of the Atlantic Route in recent years is one victim for every 20 survivors, double that of the Mediterranean.
On the Canary Route the dead do not count: nor do they appear in the arrival statistics published by the Ministry of the Interior, nor, of course, can they tell their story anymore. Even when a body is recovered, it matters little that a hundred or more fellow travelers shared days of anguish with that person, that she will surely be buried without a name, only with a number and a date.
But, this time, even the personnel who work at the most common landing docks have been struck by the fact that in very few cases the survivors reported when they stepped on The iron, Tenerife either Gran Canaria who had lost companions during their ocean days, although the painful health conditions in which they were rescued made it evident, although the faces of defeat spoke for everyone.
When consulted by EFE, experts from civil and religious entities that usually assist immigrants in the Canary Islands, attribute it to a number of different causes, but which have contributed to conveying the feeling that everything was easy, both to those who saw them arrive in Spain like, above all, those who see them leaving in Senegal and Gambia.
“People have lost their fear of the cayuco”, summarizes the president of the Federation of African Associations of the Canary Islands, the Senegalese Mame Cheikh. The reality, he details, is that they are more afraid of what they leave behind.
To the traditional reluctance to bear the legal weight of one or more reckless homicides of the boat’s skippers, who can be dangerous guys, but also friends of the people who have kept you alive at sea, this time There is a rumor that in Senegal there have been arrests among the families of the victims of some tragedies and the conviction that the less they complicate the file of their cayuco, the faster they will be transferred from the Canary Islands to the continent.
“But many people are dying, many”laments from Madrid the Senegalese actor Thimbo Samb, who is contacted every day from his town, Kayar, to tell him that acquaintances of his have headed to Europe and, increasingly, to ask him about cayucos that have not yet arrived, to even though they left many days ago, too many.
With the help of health workers and emergency team workers who were in contact straight with its protagonists, EFE has reconstructed some of those tragedies silenced by figures. In most cases, sources have requested anonymity.
On the afternoon of October 11, the ferry from Shipping Weapons Tirajana Volcano was leaving Tenerife loaded with passengers who were preparing to cross the Pilar bridge in El Hierro. At around 7:27 p.m., his crew told Salvamento that he had a canoe with many people in sight. And he added: “They try to row, they are adrift”.
The ferry’s description of the situation was so serious that Salvamento mobilized two ships, the Salvamar Mízar from La Gomera and Salvamar Menkalinan from Tenerife. The latter arrived first, helping its 102 occupants, including five women and 25 minors.
Then, The canoe was half-sunken, with the water up to the knees of its occupants, the rescue file details.
The drama that these people had gone through became known hours later, in port from Los Cristianos, where the survivors told the Red Cross that five of their companions were missing: Three of them jumped into the sea to look for help by swimming the first morning they drifted and saw the silhouette of a relatively close island (La Gomera). after several unsuccessful attempts to attract the attention of ships passing in the distance; the other two tried it the next day.
The five jumped with life jackets that their companions lent them, but none of them returned.. They were more than 23 kilometers from land. They had left from M’Bour, Senegal, about 1,500 kilometers away, twelve days earlier. They were from Senegal, Gambia and Guinea.
a broken child
In the hustle and bustle that presides over every disembarkation, that child attracted attention that day at the La Restinga dock (El Hierro), not only because of the swelling that disfigured his face, but because of his “deep sadness”. She had a lost look, she was absent.
He was admitted that same day to the island’s hospital and, the next day, he was urgently transferred to one of the two referral centers in Tenerife, due to the impact that his state of shock had on pediatricians. El Hierro couldn’t get anything out of him, they only assumed that he must have been 10 to 11 years old.
The infection on his face subsided, but the boy didn’t talk to anyone or do anything. He was devastated and resorting to the French interpreter didn’t help much either. It was a cleaning employee at the center, Senegalese like him, who managed to connect. In Wolof.
“It’s incredible,” laments a health worker at the center, “with how long we’ve been living with this situation and we continue to assume that everyone speaks French, when that’s not the case. If it’s not for that man, We wouldn’t have been able to know anything about what was happening to the child.“.
The boy had experienced a terrible trauma: he was traveling with his mother, his father and his brother. He saw the two of them die on the journey, he didn’t know anything about his mother since they rescued him. Days later, They found her in the other hospital on the island, in the ICU.
The health workers who treated him do not know what his cayuco was, although based on the date of his admission they believe it was October 2. That day, four arrived in El Hierro with 521 immigrants on board; the last of them, with only 23 people, of which two ended up in the hospital. Due to the general condition of its occupants and their small number, There are suspicions that they lost companions along the way.
Cayucos to the limit
This October, up to five cayucos a day have arrived in El Hierro and Tenerife, some with numbers of occupants hitherto unknown on the Canary Route (between 250 and 320 people) and the majority in apparently good condition. Many had left from Kayar, M’Bour or Saint Louis, fishing towns in Senegal where there is no shortage of good boats, experienced “captains” and hundreds of young people accustomed to spending days on the high seas, earning a living between networks.
But the good sailing conditions they encountered for three weeks have changed, There are more waves, wind and the canoes from Gambia or Senegal take longer to complete the route. And more days mean more risk of the engine breaks or, simply, that the fuel or water calculations made when starting are overwhelmed.
Only this weekend and Monday Three canoes have reached Tenerife with testimonies from companions who died on the journeyto. The first was rescued early Saturday morning, when 221 people and the body of a twelve-year-old child remained on board. Some testimonies say that he was traveling with his brother, a young man whom the Church’s Migration Secretariat has been looking for since then to offer his help.
That canoe, from Gambia, was rescued by the Guardanar Calíope on Friday afternoon 156 kilometers from Tenerife when it was already adrift, but the day before it had been seen with an erratic course by a fishing boat. The survivors claim that more than 20 died those days at sea; Of those who stepped onto the dock, more than a hundred required medical help.
His case is not unique. This Monday, around 6:00 a.m., Another canoe arrived in Tenerife with 95 people who had left Kayarincluding two babies and a two-year-old girl. “They were so bad that some could not even speak, nor did they respond to stimuli”, says a healthcare provider. Twenty-four ended up in the hospital, three of them seriously.
Of the survivors they were able to speak to, The paramedics found out that they had thrown dead colleagues into the seaThey could not specify how many, several on each side of the ship. Perhaps the same thing happened with Oto Cayuco, which arrived just a few hours later at the same port with 210 people, including two corpses and a man so seriously ill that he died on the dock while they were assisting him.