Each year, tens of thousands of Africans decide to flee poverty and conflict as illegal migrants in search of a better life in Europe.
The International Organisation for Migration has said that around 32,000 Africans paid about US$1200 each to risk the trip to the Canary Islands last year.
But Spanish officials say those are only the ones who survived, while about 6 thousand people died or went missing at sea.
Al Jazeera’s Gabi Menezes reports on the dream of reaching Europe and how some have found it can go terribly wrong.
One of the main departure points is the West Coast of Africa with thousands of illegal migrants setting off from the northern coast of Senegal.
The most common destination is the southernmost territory in the European Union – Spain’s Canary Islands – off the west the coast of Morocco.
A seat on an illegal boat headed for Spain is around $500.
The women in the sleepy town of St Louis, Senegal pool their money every couple of months so they can afford to put one of their “lucky” sons on the single boat to make the passage.
Madame N’Daiye, chief of the women, said: “We help our children to go to Europe and work. They must remember our needs so we can be independent.”
Family names are written down, placed into a hat, and the winner will make an enormous sacrifice and send her son away.
Banatheam Latood, mother of one of the boys given the opportunity to cross into Europe, said: “I give thanks to God that my son was chosen.
“It’s important for me because we lost his father one year ago and we are really suffering. I really think that his departure to Spain will be a big help.”
Kolisol, the son who was granted the passage, said he was ashamed he couldn’t support his family and was eager to make the 1500Km journey by boat to the Canary Islands.
“I have to do everything before I die to help my mother and my family, who is still alive. So I don’t even think twice. I want to go, come what may.”
In trying to reach a better life he knows he risks death. The seas are dangerous and stormy and as many as one in ten men will die making the crossing.
Not all parents are anxious for their sons to make the journey. In the capital Dakar a group of over 300 mothers have formed a coalition to fight against illegal migration. One or more of their sons died trying to reach Spain’s Canary Islands.
Yayi Bayam Diouf, chief of the coalition against migration, encouraged her son to leave, but realised her mistake too late.
“I feel a little guilty now. Because I was the one who told him yes, he should leave.”
Now, most of the women have no husbands, and no sons to support them.
They try and convince other parents not to pay for their son’s illegal journey.
Aram Leye, a mother who lost her son to the dangerous seas, didn’t even have his body to give him a proper burial.
“My son was a good worker, and now he has left me,” she said.
However, most of their sons still believe that death is an acceptable risk to take to escape poverty.