Accessibility links

Breaking News

Mourning Mothers Fight Against Migration

Even as officials recently discussed ideas to prevent growing illegal migration from Africa to the shores of Europe, African mothers who lost their sons at sea were busy trying to help their communities. Many say they must prevent more young men from attempting the perilous crossing, but some still hope their sons will try. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from a fishing village near Senegal's capital, Dakar, in this the first report in a five part series.

"Me, I am a woman who has lost her only son in the illegal immigration."

Yayi Bayam Diouf is still mourning her son, who died like hundreds of others, this year, after setting sail on flimsy pirogues, dreaming of a better life in Europe.

"All young men are trying to go by small boats to go to the Canary [Islands]. Many of my community are living the same as me," she said. "We all lost one son, two sons in the sea, because of illegal migration."

To fight back, she has set up shoreline watch community groups around her village, Thiaroye, and reports any suspicious activity.

"[When I see] the men who have boats and who take the boys to illegal migration, I call police. Five of them are in prison. That is a good thing," she said.

Diouf also curses the foreign fishing boats and the agreements African governments sign allowing their presence, which she says are also causing migration.

She said, "Big boats from Europe and from Korea are here. We cannot fish with them in the sea because our materials are old."

Speaking in the local Wolof language, Arame Leigh says her own son left on a pirogue, just after his own son was born.

A journalist at the village translates her dismay and resolute will not to let it happen again.

"When my son left, I never heard from him. I called several people and asked everywhere," she said. "Up to now, all we know is that out of 50 people in the boat that he was in, only two people could be accounted for."

"All the 48 others are nowhere to be seen. We, the women of Thiaroye, will never let our children join small boats to go on this illegal migration again. We have already lost a lot of people in this community. Two boats carrying 50 people each left and we never saw our children again. This is really heart-breaking," she added.

The women hold meetings with the young men, convincing them not to leave and to work, instead, to help mothers and wives whose husbands and sons died or disappeared.

They also invited an Islamic leader, who said taking a pirogue was similar to suicide, which the Koran considers a sin.

A visitor to the village and the president of a Spanish association helping economic migrants, María Jesús Arsuaga, says she is impressed by what the mothers are doing.

She said, "We must cooperate in order to make this immigration legal and with better conditions. They want to create work and job opportunities in Senegal in order to find solutions to the problems."

"And third, [I note] the courage of these women, after having the pain and suffering of losing their relatives, they have started to work in order to solve their problems and to look ahead," she continued.

But some Senegalese mothers interviewed for this report say they still feel illegal migration could be the only hope for a better future for their sons and themselves, whatever the risk.

They say they secretly hope their son can one day send them money from wages in Europe and buy them a ticket to the Muslim holy site, Mecca.