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Deadly voyage for African emigrants

At least 1,300 Africans died this year on the 500-mile voyage from Mauritania to Spain's Canary Islands.

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Africans are taking increasingly dangerous risks as they try to smuggle themselves into Europe in the hope of finding jobs to support families back home.

Since Morocco tightened its borders under pressure from the European Union, Mauritania has become the new migrant magnet. That means instead of a short hop across the Mediterranean to mainland Spain, would-be migrants are attempting a 500-mile ocean voyage in rickety, open-topped fishing boats to Spain's Canary Islands, a gateway to the rest of Europe.

Some 4,000 Africans have been caught trying to reach the Canaries so far this year - compared to 4,751 for all of 2005. More than 125 people - most from Mali and Senegal - have been detained there in the past week.

"People are taking 10 times the risk to get out. It's like if the door is blocked, you try the window, and if the window's blocked, you try the roof," says Ahmedou Ould Haye, head of the Mauritanian Red Crescent in Nouadhibou.

The Red Crescent estimates that from January to March, at least 1,300 Africans perished trying to make the treacherous trip from this northern port town, where the Sahara desert meets the sea.

But the alarming statistics do nothing to puncture the dream of so many young people from West African countries where unemployment can top 50 percent, familial obligations weigh heavy on sons' shoulders, and excited calls from friends already in Europe dispel any momentary doubts.

"If they can do it then why can't I." says Fode Ndiaye, squatting on the beach and looking out at the turquoise ocean with a mixture of determination and frustration.

Last month the young man from Senegal drifted on those waves for six days. On reaching dry land in Morocco, he was deported back to Senegal but he is already back in Nouadhibou, working on a new plan of action.


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