Kourotum and her son were unable to board the same vessel. After surviving the Canary Islands route, Kourotum waited for months for Souleyman to appear.
During the week of 14-22 December 2019, conflicting information emerged with regard to the boats that had set off from the city of Dakhla for the Canary Islands. Relatives tried to clarify the number of people and boats in danger on the route to our organisation. Large numbers of boats were arriving on the islands and we were concerned that others had remained at sea without alerting us to their presence.
On 21 December, our organisation received an alert from two vessels that had left Dakhla three days earlier. With information from two family members, one searching for his partner and the other waiting to hear from his wife and son, we were able to piece together the events: a total of 108 people had set off to sea in four groups, but their families had no further information. The father of the missing child explained that three of the wooden boats had reached Las Palmas and that the fourth, which he believed to be carrying his wife and three-month-old baby, was rumoured to have landed in Tenerife. At Ca-minando Fronteras, we searched in vain for the supposed survivors as their families insisted that they had arrived, desperate to find their loved ones. “In Tenerife, they take their phones away and that’s why they haven’t contacted us”, “in Tenerife, there are some areas without phone signal so they haven’t been able to call”, they repeated to reassure themselves.
To confirm whether or not the fourth boat had arrived amid the families’ desperation, the baby’s father gave us Kourotum’s telephone number. She had travelled on one of the three boats that had arrived in the Canary Islands with her daughter Nora. However, her 12-year-old son Kanate was still missing: he had been separated from his family and put onto the boat that had disappeared.
As soon as she arrived in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Kourotum reported her son missing to the authorities and NGOs but she was ignored. When we spoke to her, she had us talk to a volunteer from the organisation responsible for migrants at Hotel Puerto Canteras, where she was staying. “She showed us a picture of the boy but these are things for the police to deal with”, the volunteer said nonchalantly. Kourotum was deeply distressed. She was in a new place where she struggled to make herself understood in her mother tongue and was receiving conflicting information about the boat her son was travelling on, but she remained hopeful of finding him.
Ca-minando Fronteras suggested reporting him missing to the National Police. Based on our own investigations, we suspected that the people on the fourth boat never made it to the Canary Islands. The lawyer D.A. accompanied her to the police station to report her son Kanate Souleyman missing. The police did not find Kourotum’s son on any of the islands. Relatives of the other people who had gone missing continued to call our hotline throughout January 2020, making it clear that none of them had been in contact.
Months later, on 30 June 2020, we spoke to Kourotum. She described herself as devastated and worn down by “all the problems we migrant women face in the Canary Islands”. Despite having relatives in Europe, she was unable to leave the islands and was grieving alone.
Her story is that of thousands of mothers who have been ignored and mistreated by states and reception systems. Their status as migrants takes precedence over their role as mothers and they are denied the right to grieve, experiencing ambiguous loss as they struggle to resist the institutional racism present in reception systems.