/ 1 July 2008

At least 37 suspected migrants drown off Gabon

At least 37 suspected illegal migrants were found dead on the seafront of Gabon’s capital, Libreville, on Tuesday after their boat was wrecked, rescue workers and morgue officials said

A rickety open wooden boat, of the kind often used by would-be migrants trying to reach Europe from Africa, was found broken on rocks not far from the bodies.

Thousands of poor African job-seekers risk their lives each year trying to get to Spain’s Canary Islands in a bid to seek a better life in Europe. Hundreds die in the attempt, human rights campaigners say.

Traffickers regularly cram 200 or 300 people into pirogues, the open wooden boats used across Central and West Africa, powered by sometimes ancient outboard motors and poor quality fuel.

Gabon’s own relative prosperity, funded by oil, has also made it a favourite destination for illegal migrants from nearby countries.

With investment from former colonial ruler France, Gabon was one of the first sub-Saharan African countries to exploit its crude oil reserves, which have made its 1,5-million people among the continent’s richest on a per capita basis.

But the wealth is far from evenly spread, and many people — immigrants in particular — survive in poverty amid the relative affluence of Libreville and other large towns. — Reuters