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"Despite the enormous risk, we understand why Africans board the boats to try to reach Europe"

Moustapha and Makhtar Diop with a photo of their sister .
Moustapha and Makhtar Diop with a photo of their sister . / E. C.
  • Two Senegalese brothers who made it to the Canary Islands in a Cayuco and now live in the Axarquía talk about the death of their sister

Moustapha and Makhtar Diop climbed aboard a Cayuco (a small Indian canoe) and left their native Senegal on 26 May 2006. Along with 110 other people, they spent 11 days on the Atlantic Ocean, six of which without food or water. They made it to Tenerife, exhausted, but alive. They were two of the thousands of Africans who arrived in Cayucos in the hope of a better life in Europe in the mid-2000s; an exodus which became known as 'The Cayucu Crisis.'

Thirteen years later and settled in the Axarquía, where they have families of their own, the brothers learned of the death of their younger sister, Mbeine, who was trying to reach Spain on a boat from Tangiers on 1 May.

"I was working at the Feria de los Pueblos in Fuengirola [Makhtar is an entertainer and dance instructor] and my wife kept calling my phone. When I answered she told me my brothers were trying to find me because they had been told that Mbeine had died in the sea," explains Makhtar, who lives in Torre del Mar.

His brother Moustapha lives in Nerja, where he is married with three children. Moustapha works at the Ayo beach bar in Nerja renting sun beds. When he learned of the death of 23-year-old Mbeine and that her body was in Algeciras, he explains, "We had to ask for help because we didn't have the 4,000 euros it costs to repatriate the body to Senegal and on top of that we needed 3,000 euros to pay for my and my brothers' [two other brothers also live in the province] flights to Senegal."

However, after putting a message on social networks, the response from fellow Senegalese residents in Torre del Mar, "was incredible," and within days the men had raised all the money they needed. "I don't know how to thank them all, from a neighbour who gave me 5,000 euros, to those who donated five, 10 or 50 euros," says Makhtar, who appeared on stage at the 2018 Cadiz carnival with his carnival song (chirigota) 'Don't burn yourself out yet.' "I love the carnivals, it's a way of learning the language and understanding Andalusian humour," he explains.

Makhtar is Spanish salsa champion, a Latin dance instructor and entertainer in hotels along the Costa del Sol and has even appeared on the Spanish version of 'Come Dine With Me' on Spain's channel four.

Makhtar and Moustapha are only too aware of the risks that thousands of Africans take every day trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe. However, despite having just returned from Senegal where they buried their only sister, they both explain that they still understand why people risk their lives . They both agree that , "it is always better than living in hell which is what it's like in Senegal." They explain that there is "nothing there," except "misery and poverty, corrupt politicians, violence and robberies ." Here on the other hand they say that life is "fantastic." Moustapha considers that "you have to take risks in life, those that don't, don't win."

Makhtar says he feels "loved" in Torre del Mar and believes that the xenophobic and racist comments that far-right political parties, such as Vox, are sharing "won't go far" as he believes Spain "needs immigrants to work" due to the aging population. He adds that many Spaniards were also immigrants "just two decades ago" and that it is "normal and natural" to leave a country in search of a better life. "I just wish Africans didn't have to escape from such poverty," he concludes.