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Climate change forces African migrants into dangerous treks by sea, desert

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(NEW YORK) — In Senegal, rising sea temperatures and years of overfishing have depleted the country’s stocks of fish which are crucial to the economy and the population’s diet. A third of the country lives in poverty, and even with an education, it’s difficult for many to find sustainable jobs.

That’s why Djiby, a Senegalese man, told ABC News that he saw no other choice but to embark on a small wooden boat called a pirogue, hoping to reach Spain’s Canary Islands via the Atlantic.

“I’m going to Spain to support my family,” he told ABC News before he set out for his journey.

The Canary Islands are roughly a thousand miles away from the shorelines of Senegal. It’s also one of the most used routes by migrants hoping to reach Europe, according to international migration experts. But the journey across the water is dangerous, and at worse, deadly.

More than 3,500 people died last year alone trying to reach Europe according to UNCHR. Other NGO’s estimate the death toll is much higher.

And still, people are willing to risk paying the ultimate price for a chance at a better life.

Mbene Kane is a single mom and has been considering taking that trip to the Canary Islands with her 6-year-old daughter. Kane used to work selling fish and said that rising prices and lower supply have left her unable to provide the life she wants for her daughter.

“Having all those needs and assuming that there is somewhere you can go and satisfy those needs, you don’t care about the risks – you go,” Kane told ABC News.

Kane attempted to make the journey once before, but her boat was struck by dangerous waters that forced her to return to shore.

“The water was getting into the boat. As the water came in, we tried to scoop it out, but more waves were coming in,” she recalled.

Kane said she does have concerns about her and her daughter’s safety if she decides to attempt the trip once more.

And for good reason.

One of the deadliest incidents last year took place in August off the coast of Cabo Verde when a boat of 100 Senegalese migrants sank.

Assane was one of the passengers on the boat and he described the harsh conditions he faced.

“The boat didn’t move for two days. Two bars of cookies were given to everybody daily. When we were out of food, a lot more people were dying,” he told ABC News. “All I was thinking about was death. It was just a question of days, but I was convinced I would die.”

Assane still has scars on his face and neck from the ropes that were used to save the boat he was on for 35 days. He vowed never to make the journey again.

“We rely on the sea but there is nothing left in this sea,” he said.

While the ocean is the deadliest migrant route of all, many Africans hoping to get to Europe have to cross the grueling Sahara Desert first.

Georgette is from Benin in West Africa and decided to make the journey through the desert with her son so she could meet her husband in Libya. Once there, they plan on heading to Italy for a better life.

“If you don’t have money, you have nothing in life. You can’t just make a baby. A baby can’t find food. It’s not good,” she told ABC News.

Georgette waited three weeks in Niger to cross more than 800 miles of desert. She and her son rode in the back of a pickup truck with dozens of other migrants for six days.

The trip cost Georgette $500 but the physical and emotional toll of the trip was much higher.

After days under the relentless sun and with little water left, Georgette found herself weak, exhausted and dehydrated.

“The sun bothers me too much. In this route, there is too much of suffering,” she said.

More than 5,600 people have died or gone missing in the Sahara since 2014, according to the United Nation’s International Organization for Migration. However, the route is so dangerous and the smuggling shrouded in secrecy, that the actual death toll is thought to be much higher.

Georgette and her son were lucky, they made it to Libya. If and when they take a boat to cross the Mediterranean to Italy, there’s no doubt another dangerous journey awaits.

ABC News’ Sohel Uddin, Aicha El Hammar and Adoum Moussa contributed to this report.

 

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