The goalkeeper of the Gambia’s national women’s football team died crossing the Mediterranean in the hope of starting a new life in Europe, her former coach told AFP Wednesday.
Fatim Jawara, believed to have been just 19, was on board a boat that ran into trouble in the Mediterranean last month while crossing from Libya to Europe.
She joins more than 3,300 migrants who have lost their lives in its waters this year, according to figures from the International Organisation for Migration.
As goalkeeper of the women’s national side, known as the Scorpions, Jawara had made her debut a year ago in a friendly against a team from Glasgow, Scotland.
“Her death is untimely, but we will remember her for her great performances on the pitch,” said Chorro Mbenga, who was the assistant coach of the national under-17 side where Jawara made her breakthrough and knew her well.
Jawara is said to have left the Gambia in September to cross the Sahara and head for Libya, where most African migrants begin the sea crossing to Europe.
Gambia Football Federation President Lamin Kabba Bajo told AFP: “We are grieving at the moment as this is a great loss to the national soccer team and the nation.
“She will be remembered for saving a penalty kick in a friendly encounter involving the national soccer team and the Glasgow Girls from Scotland.”
Gambians represent the fourth-largest group of arrivals to Italy by number according to the IOM, despite being one of Africa’s smallest nations with a population of around 1.8 million.
The Gambia’s information minister cited the “mass murder of young African migrants on European beaches and waters” in its reasoning for withdrawing from the International Criminal Court last week.
It called the lack of action by European nations to protect migrants making the crossing a “racist genocide” and attacked the ICC for failing to prosecute their leaders.
However, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh dismissed the economic worries of Gambian migrants last year, arguing in a televised address that “true Muslims” would encourage their sons and daughters to take up job opportunities which are available at home.
In reality 60 percent of the population live in poverty, and a third survive on $1.25 or less a day, according to the UN.