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FRANCE 24, Date created : 2015-05-15
Fearful that many Senegalese may have perished in the recent shipwrecks of migrant boats in the Mediterranean, the Senegalese government is launching a new initiative to uncover information about missing nationals.
The telephone doesn’t stop ringing at the Dakar office of the state secretary in charge of the Senegalese diaspora. After thousands of people died last month when several migrant boats capsized in the Mediterranean, the government set up a crisis centre to help families of undocumented migrants obtain information about missing loved ones.
In the office, René-Pierre Yehoumé tries to respond to hundreds of calls, methodically noting the name of the missing persons, their departure date and the time and place of the last contact they had with their family. Despite this initiative, no families have been officially informed of the fate of their missing loved ones.
Large numbers of Senegalese nationals have left the country, joining the flood of sub-Saharan African migrants towards North Africa and, increasingly, Europe. Since January of this year, 1,616 Senegalese citizens have reached the Italian coast. Others weren’t so lucky: while it has been confirmed that Senegalese people drowned in the shipwrecks in April, the number of deaths remains unknown, as does the identity of the victims.
The families of the lost are left trying to piece together what happened to their loved ones with scraps of information coming from Libya, the departure point for many of the boats. That’s the case for Yaya’s family. A year ago, the young mechanic left home for Tripoli. His parents believe that he may have been in one of the boats that recently capsized.
“One of his friends called me and asked me if I was Yaya’s mother and if I had heard any news. I told him it had been two months since I had any news. He told me Yaya’s boat had sunk. Then I said, ‘So he left on a boat? Yaya didn’t tell me that.’ That was on April 25,” Mama Sadio, the mother of the young man told FRANCE 24.
According to the statements of returnee migrants quoted in local media, thousands of Senegalese drowned in the Mediterranean last month. Some 200 Senegalese migrants drowned last April, according to a state source, though the number was later contested by other government officials. If these numbers are correct, it could mean devastating news for 200 families, who are currently waiting and hoping for the best, but, increasingly, fearing the worst.