Mbene’s brother was able to confirm his sister’s death when her body washed up on the Spanish coast. Mbene had gone missing while attempting to cross the Strait of Gibraltar.
On 5 May 2019, Salvamento Marítimo discovered the body of a 21-year-old woman a mile away from the port of Algeciras in Spain. The Senegalese woman had tried to cross the Strait of Gibraltar on a wooden boat two days earlier. Mbene Diop, who worked as a hairdresser in Morocco, died of hypothermia before reaching shore. Her body was retrieved on a very busy day for rescue services, when up to 136 people received assistance on the Strait of Gibraltar route. Mbene was identified with help from her brother, who was living in Andalusia when he received the news that his sister had tried to reach Spain. After failing to hear from her, he travelled to Algeciras in the hope of finding her body.
Mbene never intended to make the crossing to Spain and had made that clear to her family during their telephone calls. After several days without contact, one of her brothers, a famous Senegalese dancer, shared photos of his sister on social media. His actions were in vain, so he travelled to Morocco to look for Mbene. Her flatmates told him that Mbene had decided to travel to Spain on a wooden boat because she was “tired of Morocco”. She was also keen to undergo surgery in Spain to fulfil her dream of having a child.
“I gave Mbene the ticket to Morocco myself. She dreamt of being a mother and pursuing a career as a hairdresser and she wasn’t able to do that here. I feel really guilty now for giving her the opportunity. She never planned to make the crossing, or at least that’s what she told us. She had begun to earn decent money at work and she was happy”, her brother said.
Mbene’s family confessed that it was very difficult to obtain reliable information about the tragedy. The lack of specific channels for searching for border victims and the language barrier were major obstacles. Despite this, Mbene’s brothers were able to identify her body quickly: “I know a guy who went missing on the same boat as my sister but his body was never found. His family are still tormented by it; being able to see and bury your loved one’s body is vital for the wound to begin to heal”, they explained.
In Algeciras, Mbene’s brother was grateful for the support he received from Ca-minando Fronteras and the Senegalese community. “When we saw her body, despite it being disfigured by the sea, we knew it was her. We were certain of it. The Civil Guard were efficient when it came to identifying her, but there was a lack of support. Something that tough requires personal and psychological support. We’ve beaten ourselves up so much for failing to give her a better life!”. “Part of us, of our entire family, died with Mbene. In my case, at least, I haven’t been the same since. Like so many other Senegalese families, we are in great pain”.