Fatim Jawara: Gambian Women’s National Football Team Goalkeeper Drowns In The Mediterranean Among Illegal Migrants Heading To Europe

The death of Fatim Jawara, the 19-year-old goalkeeper on Gambia’s national women’s football team who was heading to Europe via the Mediterranean, has put the spotlight on the dangers that migrants face in their quest to reach Europe illegally from the coast of North Africa.

The Gambian Football Federation (GFF) confirmed the death of Fatim Jawara on Thursday in a press statement. According to her former coach, Chorro Mbenga, the athlete, who was looking to create a new life in Europe, died last month, the Guardian reported.

“I received the news today and it has really shocked me. The young girl is a talent and on the move for greener pastures but the way she died is just shocking and sympathetic,” Gambia Football Federation President Lamin Kabba Bajo said. “She will be remembered for saving a penalty kick in a friendly encounter involving the national soccer team and the Glasgow Girls from Scotland.”

Lamin Kabba Bajo also sent condolences to the family of the late Fatim Jawara.

“Her death is untimely, but we will remember her for her great performances on the pitch,” said Mbenga, her former U-17 coach.

Fatim Jawara, who had cemented her role in the Gambian national team and local club Red Scorpions FC where she played, quit both posts after deciding to travel to Europe. She is alleged to have spent several weeks in a camp in the Libyan coastal city of Misrata, RT reported.

Jawara, who made her mark on the Gambian team in 2012 during the Women’s FIFA U-17 World Cup, reportedly left her country in September. She is believed to have arrived in Libya after traveling through the Sahara desert, a perilous route frequently used by illegal migrants.

The exact date when the doomed boat with Jawara on board left the Libyan coast for Europe is unknown. The exact number of migrants aboard the boat is also unclear. The deadly accident occurred after the boat ran into trouble on the Mediterranean, Bleacher reported.

Fatim Jawara’s death was initially confirmed by the agent who she paid to help her travel from Libya to Europe. The amount she paid to Europe cannot be confirmed. However, migrants seeking to enter Europe via the region are known to pay people traffickers thousands of dollars, Al Jazeera reported.

Libya has been in a state of chaos since 2011 when Muammar Gaddafi was violently ousted from office. The ensuing unrest has exacerbated the influx of migrants and led to the rise of human trafficking gangs.

About 3,500 illegal migrants, mainly from Africa and the Middle East, have drowned in the Mediterranean this year, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The number of causalities in 2015 was reportedly around 4,000 people.

Fatim Jawara
African refugees and migrants react aboard a partially punctured rubber boat as they wait to be assisted by a NGO during a rescue operation on the Mediterranean Sea, [Photo by Santi Palacios/AP Photo]

War-torn Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Eritrea and Nigeria are among countries with the most illegal migrants in Europe.

Gambia, which has a very small population of about 1.8 million, reportedly accounts for up to a fourth of the migrants in Italy. Although the Italian island of Lampedusa is the closest from Libya, the journey is particularly dangerous.

The Gambian government, which recently pulled out of the International Criminal Court (ICC), cited the mass death of African youth attempting to reach Europe as part of the reasons for its withdrawal.

“After several warning to the UN General Assembly and the Security Council, in particular, about the mass murder of young African migrants on European beaches and waters,” said Sheriff Bojang, Gambian Minister of Information and Communication Infrastructure while explaining why his country left the ICC.

Critics say poverty and political turmoil are among the main factors that push migrants to attempt the perilous journey to Europe.

However, Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh has since dismissed a 2015 United Nations (UN) report which claimed that more than 60 percent of the West African country’s population live below the poverty line. Many reportedly earn about $ 1.25 daily.

[Featured Image by Santi Palacios/AP Photo]