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At least 58 people, including women and children, were killed after a boat carrying dozens of migrants capsized in the Atlantic Ocean off the West African nation of Mauritania, the United Nations’ migration agency said on Wednesday.
The perilous sea passage from West Africa to Europe was once a major route for migrants seeking jobs and prosperity. The sinking is one of the deadliest incidents since the mid-2000s when Spain stepped up patrols and fewer boats attempted the journey.
The boat carrying at least 150 people was low on fuel while approaching Mauritania, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in a statement.
It said 83 people swam to shore. The survivors were being helped by Mauritanian authorities in the northern city of Nouadhibou, the IOM said.
Survivors said the boat, with women and children on board, had left the Gambia on November 27.
An unknown number of injured were taken to hospital in Nouadhibou.
“The Mauritanian authorities are very efficiently coordinating the response with the agencies currently present in Nouadhibou,” said Laura Lungarotti, chief of mission in Mauritania with the migration agency.
There was no immediate statement from authorities in the Gambia, a small West African nation from which many migrants set off in hopes of reaching Europe.
Although home to some of the continent’s fastest-growing economies, West Africa is struggling to generate enough jobs for its growing population of young people.
Despite the Gambia’s small size, more than 35,000 Gambian migrants arrived in Europe between 2014 and 2018, according to the IOM.
The 22-year long oppressive rule by then-President Yahya Jammeh severely affected the country’s economy, especially for the Gambia’s young people, prompting some to look to migrating.
Since Jammeh was voted out of office in 2016 and fled into exile in January 2017, European countries have been pushing to return asylum seekers, but the country’s economy has still to recover.
The coastal nation, a popular tourist destination, was shaken earlier this year by the collapse of British travel company Thomas Cook.
At the time, the Gambia’s tourism minister said the government convened an emergency meeting on the collapse, while some Gambians said the shutdown could have a devastating impact on tourism, which contributes more than 30 percent of the country’s GDP.