Videos have surfaced online of Pateh Sabally, an African immigrant, drowning in the waters of Venice, Italy, as bystanders laugh and make racist jokes.
Sabally was a 22-year old Gambian refuge with Italian residency papers. Eyewitnesses say Sabally jumped in to the freezing water and started swimming toward the center of the Grand Canal.
A video of the incident shows Sabally trying to swim but flailing around in the middle of the canal while a voice can be heard saying, “He is stupid. He wants to die.” With another screaming “Go on, go back home.”
Witnesses of the incident, which happened in mid-January, also say at least three life rings were thrown in to the water close to Sabally but he did not reach out to grab any of them, prompting speculation in some quarters that his death was a suicide attempt.
However, Dino Basso, a local head of the Italian association of lifeguards, believes more effort could have been put in to rescuing Sabally.
“I don’t want to blame anyone but maybe something more could have been done to save him,” Basso said.
A local taxi driver added, “This is despair. I do not know the story of this guy. They have said he is African. Who knows what he’s been through; how many seas and deserts he has crossed? And he came to die in the most beautiful city in the world.”
Hundreds witnessed Sabally’s sad death from their boats, and hundreds more were around to watch the authorities pull his lifeless body out of the water. He was later wrapped in a blue bag and tied to a ladder. Italian police say they have commenced an investigation in to the incident.
According to local media reports, Sabally arrived in Italy from Gambia two years ago. He is one of more than hundreds of thousands of African migrants that enter Italy every year. Many of them make the risky journey from the coast of Libya on overcrowded boats and dinghies.
Data from the International Organisation of Migration also reveals that despite being one of Africa’s smallest countries, Gambians represent the fourth-largest group of arrivals to Italy by number.
Most migration from Gambia tends to be fueled by the poverty and lack of opportunities faced by young Gambians in their own country, prompting them to dream of starting a new life in Europe.