The first thing eight-year-old Aissata said to her father on the phone from the hospital after eleven days adrift in the Atlantic was “mom is not here, she is in the sea”; little Seidou, five, takes refuge in his Spiderman doll and refuses to accept that his will never come, and Amina, six, still cannot speak.
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According to the data provided by the Government Delegation in the Canary Islands, 2,674 migrants arrived on these islands in Spain during January 2022.
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By the end of 2021, a total of 22,316 people set off from the Atlantic coasts of Africa on journeys that sometimes exceed 1,000 kilometres. Some 4,000 people died in the attempt, according to data (always conservative) from the United Nations.
In that figure are the mothers of Aissata, Seidou and Amina, three minors from the Ivory Coast who are part of the extensive list of orphans that the Canarian Immigration Route generates month after month, in the case of the two girls with the modality more terrible: that of those who contemplate, still unable to understand their destiny, how the mother who tried to offer them a future in Europe dies and disappears under the waters.
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How does a child recover from such a trauma? The Efe Agency spoke about it with the educators of the Canary Islands Government juvenile center who help them to do so.
Aissata: August 26, 500 kilometers from the iron island. Almost at the beginning of the course, Aissata for the first time he took his notebooks and his backpack and sat down in a classroom of a school in Gran Canaria near the center where he lived. He only spoke Bambara and some French, but he wanted to study.
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Three weeks had passed since Salvamento Marítimo rescued her from one of the most tremendous crossings this year on the Canarian Route: that of a ship where 29 of the 55 people on board died, including seven girls, like her.
“In a boat adrift in the Atlantic, without water or food, on the seventh or eighth day they are throwing corpses overboard, for sure”, says Enrique, the director of the center.
“Do you imagine that you are a child in the middle of the situation? What do you think when you see another child being thrown into the sea? Don’t you wonder if you’ll be next?
The little ones who went through that trauma don’t talk about it. At least, not for quite some time, although the journey accompanies almost everyone in their nightmares, night after night.
It is the story of Aissata, who, like other children in her situation, receives help from a psychologist.
Aissata is a “very good” girl. She doesn’t talk much. He came ashore in the care of a supposed aunt who was really just a woman his mother met on the boat. and to whom he entrusted the girl and her passport when he suspected that she would not survive. Her father, who lives in France, has already expressed his wish that she meet him.
He still has a long way to go.
Aissata doesn’t talk to men, she avoids them. He recently opened up to his educators: “The boat was stopped. Some bad men threw my mother into the sea.”.
There is also the case of Seidou. They rescued him on September 9 in Arguineguín, on the island of Gran Canaria. The youngest in the center is Seidou, a five-year-old Ivorian boy.
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He arrived after being rescued from a small boat, known in this part of the world as pateras, in the first half of September in the south of Gran Canaria.
‘Mom is coming’
Seidou was traveling alone. His mother and his little brother were in another boat that never made it to land. In the center they know it because his father told it from Morocco, from where he plans, also like the rest of his family, cross to the Canary Islands.
“Seidou is wonderful”, sums up Tatiana, one of her educators. The boy ignores what has happened to his mother. Actually, he doesn’t want to know, every time the psychologists try to tell him, he shuts down. “Mom is coming,” he settles the issue.
The boat left wounds on him, like everyone else, but he is extremely affectionate. “On the first day,” recalls Tatiana, “he came up behind me, hugged me and started tickling me. Then she took me by the hand and led me to the toy bin.”
Seidou loves Spiderman, although he has a problem: a doll that passes through his hands, a doll that breaks, in anger. One of the educators told the center’s psychologist about it, but he doesn’t need to be enlightened. He is clear about what is happening to the child.
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Amina, on the other hand, is six years old and is still in a hospital in Gran Canaria. He arrived almost two weeks ago and the doctors couldn’t get a word out of himhardly a yes and only sketched with the head.
But her sodium levels in her body speak for her: she spent many days drinking seawater, the desperate resource of someone dying of thirst in the middle of the ocean.
There were 52 people in Amina’s fragile boat when it was found adrift 200 kilometers from Gran Canaria and an operation was organized to remove six children and two adults in poor condition by helicopter.
One of the little ones died in the rescue.
He is not the only victim of that boat. The survivors told the police that in the ten days they spent lost in the Atlantic, at least four babies and several women died.
In the center that has taken care of Aissata and Seidou they already sensed it and they try to help the hospital with Amina’s case, because they have testimonies that her mother perished at sea.
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Like Aissata’s mother, she too was thrown into the water. And Amina is still in shock, explains Enrique.
This educator has no doubt that they will be able to recover it: they had more children like her in these two years of recovery of the Canarian Route, boys who survived on a boat where their friends were dying of hunger and thirst gnawing on the crossbars of the barge, “eating wood” . It is the survival gene.
The fateful Atlantic crossing to the Canary Islands
According to some NGOs and European authorities, last year 22,316 people crossed the English Channel and 4,404 migrants died trying to reach Spain, on the so-called Atlantic route to the Canary Islands.
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The migration crisis in Europe has set new records in Spain and the United Kingdom, where in 2021 there were increases considered significant by the authorities and refugee organizations of those countries in their recent annual reports in this regard.
The number of dead and missing on the maritime migratory routes between the African continent and Spain doubled during 2021 to at least 4,404, according to the Spanish NGO Walking Borders.
The data is 103 percent higher than in 2020, when this same organization estimated deaths at 2,170.
In what is considered the “deadliest” year on the West Euro-African border, the majority (4,016) perished in 124 shipwrecks that occurred on the Atlantic route to the Canary Islandswhich represents 91.1 percent of the total.
These numbers multiply by 3.5 the records of the United Nations Organization for Migration (IOM), which reported 1,255 deaths between January 1 and December 3, 2021, with the warning that these are estimates that they only include victims recovered from the sea or shipwrecks with survivor testimonies.
In 2021, 39,157 people arrived in Spain irregularly, 1.2 percent less than in 2020, the vast majority by sea (37,385), according to data from the Ministry of the Interior until last December.
During 2021, the arrival of migrants to the Canary Islands by sea was reduced by 4.1%, according to figures from the Spanish Ministry of the Interior, to a total of 22,316 people (in 2020 there were 23,322). In the last two months of last year, however, security forces noted an acceleration in arrivals: 3,039 in November and 2,451 in December. In January, the rate of arrivals was similar: 2,674 arrivals until the 28th, according to data provided by the Government Delegation in the Canary Islands.
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This dangerous journey became more fateful in 2021. In the first six months, 1,140 people lost their lives. And until November, more than 2,500 people had perished.
JOSE MARIA RODRIGUEZ
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Spain)
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