Migrant boy straps empty water bottles to his body in desperate attempt to survive an ocean crossing

Aschraf’s story is typical of the hundreds of children who were among the 8,000 migrants who swam or broke through security fences to try to find a new life in Europe.

Like thousands of others, the teenager who looked so anguished as he fought to keep his head above the waves has been sent back to Morocco, where he lives in a shanty town near Casablanca with his adoptive mother.

A Moroccan boy cries as he swims using bottles as a float, near the fence between the Spanish-Moroccan border, after thousands of migrants swam across the border, in Ceuta, Spain, May 19, 2021. Picture taken May 19, 2021. REUTERS/Jon Nazca
Aschraf Sabir was pictured sobbing while swimming across the Mediterranean held up by plastic bottles (Photo: Reuters/Jon Nazca)

Aschraf said that when he strapped empty plastic bottles to his body and took to the water it was his third attempt to reach Spain within 24 hours.

Spanish officers appear to push people into sea as thousands of migrants cross border from Morocco

 

“I found out that they were opening the border. Other children told me about it and we asked a [migrant from sub-Saharan Africa]. They said ‘yes’ they were letting people pass,” he told El País, a Spanish newspaper.

The first time he tried to cross last Tuesday morning, Aschraf was turned back while trying to get through a razor-wire security fence. That night, he managed to swim to Ceuta but was caught and placed in a detention centre, where he spent the night before he was sent back again.

A Moroccan boy swims using bottles as a float, near the fence between the Spanish-Moroccan border, after thousands of migrants swam across the border, in Ceuta, Spain, May 19, 2021. Picture taken May 19, 2021. REUTERS/Jon Nazca
The 16-year-old was one of 8,000 migrants who attempted the swim from Morocco to Spain (Photo: Reuters/Jon Nazca)

The next day, he found some plastic bottles that he strapped to his body and set off again to swim to Spain.

“I took them so as not to get tired swimming. This time, after they caught me, a soldier accompanied me to the border,” he said.

Aschraf was abandoned by his mother three days after his birth. She was only 16 at the time and the stigma of being an unmarried mother in Morocco is such that it affects the entire family.

He was then placed in the care of a woman known by his biological mother, named Rabía, but she died in 2016, when Aschraf was 11 years old.

He now lives with his adoptive mother Miluda Gulami in a two-room house with a corrugated roof in the Sidi Mumen neighbourhood, but ran away in February.

Miluda said she filed a complaint with the police but heard nothing until she saw him in the news last week. “I thought he was dead,” she said. “But later I saw the video and I was very happy.”

His sister Rayá Errad, Rabía’s daughter, said he was “very polite and very shy”.

Aschraf said that the four months he has spent on the street were hard. “Sometimes I slept next to a train station,” he said. “And other times I was hungry.”

He said he hoped to fulfil his dreams in Spain, and has friends who have already achieved it. “I wanted to earn money and send it to my family so they can live well,” he added.

Spanish soldiers are seen at El Tarajal Beach near the Spanish-Moroccan border, after thousands of migrants swam across this border during the last days, in Ceuta, Spain, May 20, 2021. REUTERS/Jon Nazca
Spanish soldiers are seen standing guard at El Tarajal Beach near the Spanish-Moroccan border after thousands of migrants swam across this border last week (Photo: Reuters/Jon Nazca)

There is a happy ending to Aschraf’s brave struggle. After his story moved millions, two NGOs have promised Aschraf somewhere to live and train as a hairdresser.

“He didn’t want to go back, he didn’t have any family in Morocco, he didn’t care if he died from cold,” soldier Rachid Mohamed al Messaoui, 25, told Reuters after meeting the boy on the beach. “He preferred to die … than go back to Morocco. I never heard that from someone so young.”

via IFTTT