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Another Gambian Athlete Dead as Boat Capsizes in Bid to Reach Europe

Barely weeks following Fatima Jawara’s death, another of Gambia’s athlete has died attempting to cross by boat to Europe.

Jawara, a goalkeeper for Gambia’s Women’s national team, died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea after spending weeks in Libya in the quest for pastures new having grown disillusioned over life in her country. Her death hit the sports world and topped discussions in the international media.

And barely had the waves quelled over her death, Gambia sports fraternity has been hit with yet another loss, this time a wrestler in Ali Mbengue.

Mbengue, an up-and-coming star of the arena was yet to compete for Gambia internationally but was been considered at one point by coaches and remained a big hit in the West African nation’s domestic wrestling league.

Given the moniker Mill Franc, Ali officially took up wrestling as a career in 2012 – a year following resurrection of the sport.

Unlike neighboring country Senegal where the ancient sport is a multi-million trade, Gambia’s version of wrestling could generate few sums as fight prize and Mill Franc is said to have used part of his combat prizes topping it with money given to him by his brother to fund his trip to Europe through Libya.

He left Gambia’s shores at end of last season’s wrestling championship for Libya, the closest country to Italy where, like Fatim, he is understood to have spent weeks in a secluded but crowded camp in Triploi waiting to be trafficked.

At Misrata, third largest city in Libya, a human trafficking hot spot, migrants are packed ‘like sardines’ and driven to the Libya-Italy borders where they join waiting makeshift tiny fishing boats, barely able to contain five individuals and without lifejackets having forked out huge sums to trafficking agents.

Ali and a dozen others are reported to have boarded one of those tiny boats and dreaded the gigantic sea waves before the boat capsized in the middle of the ocean.

The few who managed to survive, relayed the catastrophic incident to families of the fallen ones back home and Mill Franc is confirmed to be one of the reported deaths.

The perilous Europe by boat journey dubbed Back-Way in Gambia – a popular term used locally referencing the illegal smuggling of migrants through borders by land –has claim a number of lives with confirmed death toll of African migrants soaring  to over three thousand in October alone, according to UN Refugee Agency’s findings.

Mbengue is not the first to use the Back-Way and won’t probably be the last after Tass-sa-yaram a popular heavyweight Gambian wrestler also dreaded the sea to reach Italy before being relocated to Germany in 2014.

Christened Pa Modou Jah, Tass-sa-yaram, a moniker literally meaning Shatter the Body, left for Italy using Libya’s porous borders. This came about after he lost to Hoyantan, another top wrestler, in a contest highly touted as Gambia’s biggest arena battle in the last ten years.

Prior to leaving for the Back-Way, Tass got suspended for months for allegedly assaulting a referee.


Featured Photo: Gambian Wrestling (Gambia) by Joachim Bergauer


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