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West Africans Back in Africa after Failing to Reach Europe


Several groups of West Africans, attempting to cross by boat from Senegal to Spain, were caught this week. Some of them are now back in Senegal after their boat began to sink and they were rescued at sea. More than 90 people attempted the crossing and up to a dozen of them may have died at sea. As Nico Colombant reports from Dakar, many survivors were treated for injuries and then faced police in Senegal.

Several men wearing blue tops and trousers, looking tired, distraught, and weak wait for their turn at Senegal's main hospital.

The senior medic in the emergency unit describes the group he has just received.

"We received 15 patients, between them, we have six from Senegal, two from Nigeria, six from Sierra Leone. Among them, we have two females, and one from Mali," he explained.

He says most of their injuries are due to just sitting in awkward positions or problems with their skin, but that there is one serious leg fracture that needs to be operated on.

The doctor says it is hard to tell how long some of the victims were at sea.

"Those from Senegal spent one week in the boat, but the others spent longer, because we have one from Nigeria, with a fracture, and it looks like it lasts at least one month," he added.

After they are released from the hospital, the patients are turned over to police.

Migration officials say Senegalese are given money to go back to their villages, while foreigners are taken to their embassies in Senegal.

Police said these victims were from a group of 91 that lost its way at sea on a sinking wooden boat. They were rescued first by a Spanish fishing vessel, and then by a Spanish hospital ship.

The corpses of two other migrants who died of hypothermia were also dropped off in Dakar.

Survivors say about a dozen others died during the unsuccessful voyage.

Senegalese police also say they caught 96 would-be migrants and four traffickers in the northern coastal town of Saint-Louis this week.

Barbara Gonzalez Del Rio, at the Dakar offices of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), says it is still difficult to gauge the severity of the problem.

"The problem is that we do not have any figures of the boats that leave the Senegalese coast," she said. "It is illegal immigration so we do not have the information. We know when a boat sinks in the sea or when there are some problems or when it gets to Spain, but we do not have the figure of the quantity of boats that leave the coast."

New security efforts by a European agency called Frontex have been put in place along the African coast to prevent the dangerous crossings.

Maritime officials say about 1,500 migrants reached Spain's Canary Islands during the first three months of 2007, a 60 percent drop compared to the same time period last year.

Reports of the latest failed attempts came as the European Union gave Senegal nearly $2.5 million to help fight the tide of illegal immigrants.