Few have heard of Samuel, a four-year-old boy from Congo whose body was washed up on the beach in Barbate (Cádiz). Several days later, his mother’s body was found hundreds of kilometres away on an Algerian beach. His father was able to travel from Congo to bury them.
On 12 January 2017, Ca-minando Fronteras received a call for help from a ‘toy’ rowing boat carrying 11 people. The eight men, two women and one child had set off from Cape Spartel in Tangier that morning in an attempt to reach Tarifa. We immediately informed the rescue services. The people travelling on the boat said that they were very near the coast but they were crying for help because the flimsy boat was taking on water. They were unable to send their location using their phones and they called our hotline again and again, increasingly desperate. The boat was sinking and they were scared that they were going to die. As evening fell, Salvamento Marítimo Tarifa decided to terminate their search operation, leaving Morocco in charge of locating the boat despite it lacking the air resources needed in emergency situations. The next day, the search operation resumed as an alert was received from a second boat, similar to the previous vessel, which was transporting 10 people, including seven men and two women. Again, the search operation was terminated at nightfall.
On Saturday 14 January, bodies believed to be from the two boats began to appear.
It was not until 28 January that Samuel’s body washed up on a beach in Barbate on the southern coast of Spain and his mother’s appeared some time later on a beach in Algeria. An Algerian police officer found the woman’s mobile phone and managed to retrieve the memory card to inform her relatives that Veronique, whose face had been disfigured by days in the water, was in a morgue in Algeria. Ca-minando Fronteras was able to speak to the Algerian gendarme and explain that the woman had been travelling on a boat from Morocco to Spain. He was taken aback and worked with his boss to quickly convey the information to the Algerian embassy in Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo).
Several days after the tragedy, the Congolese community in Morocco gave the family our contact details. We explained the circumstances behind the tragedy, as we always do, stating the times when we had received the alerts. We told the family that we were almost certain that the child on the beach in Barbate was little Samuel. Like many other families, they wanted to know all about the final calls from the boat and the travellers’ fears, cries and emotions in those last moments.
Aimé Kabamba never imagined what it would be like to cross the border or what risks his wife and child would face along the way.
The Congolese community, who are very active in Morocco, informed the family when the boat went missing. The woman and child were believed to have been travelling together on the vessel and the community representative in Tangier gave our contact number to Samuel’s father and uncle.
As soon as he heard, Aimé wanted to travel to Spain and Algeria with his brother to confirm that the bodies found belonged to his loved ones. The Spanish embassy refused to help him. However, he was able to meet with the director of the Algerian embassy thanks to the information received from the country, who promised to issue him with a visa allowing him to travel to identify the body.
The process was slower for the Spanish State, despite the assistance and publicity that Aimé received from social organisations and from a Spanish journalist living in Kinshasa. Through their efforts, he was able to obtain a visa so that he could identify his loved ones and give them a proper burial – an opportunity denied to most victims’ relatives.
Aimé travelled with his brother to Algeria, where he identified Veronique’s body and organised her funeral. He received support from the police and several sisters from the church in the region. Then, he travelled to Spain. Samuel’s body was being held in the city of Cádiz in Andalusia. He was supported by Ca-minando Fronteras and the association Cardijn, which provided him with accommodation until the DNA test results were back, confirming that the body belonged to his son Samuel.
On the night he arrived in Cádiz, we were met by the Civil Guard, who showed him photos of the young boy’s body. Aimé knew it was him because he recognised his clothing: he was wearing the same clothes as in the most recent photos his wife had sent him from Tangier.
We asked the Civil Guard to expedite the DNA results, which are usually released after several months. The procedure was sped up due to the sensitive nature of the case: the body was confirmed as belonging to Samuel Kabamba.
Aimé had to bury his son in Spain due to the huge expenses involved in transporting his body back to the Democratic Republic of Congo. On 11 March 2017, Aimé buried his son at the cemetery in Barbate, surrounded by dozens of local residents who stood in solidarity with him. The four-year-old boy’s life may well have been saved had the rescue services mobilised all the resources available to them when the boat went missing.
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