Following the deaths of nine migrants headed towards the Canary Islands in March 2021, two people have each been sentenced to nine years in prison. Two young children were among those who died.
A court in Las Palmas on the Spanish island of Gran Canaria sentenced Senegalese national Amadou D. and Gambian national Kate D. to nine years in prison. The two defendants accepted the charges in the final sentencing hearing on Wednesday, January 26.
The two each received a three-year-sentence for crimes against the rights of foreigners, and one year in prison for each of the six counts of reckless homicide brought forward by the Public Prosecutor's Office, all of which are meant to be served consecutively.
Two of the deaths in the incident were excluded from the charges, as it emerged that those two migrants decided to jump into the sea out of their own volition. According to the Spanish EFE news agency, this was a desperate act intended "to put an end to their agony."
A total of 52 people where found on or near the dinghy heading towards the Canary Islands when it was intercepted by the Spanish Maritime Rescue service (Salvamento Marítimo) in March 2021. Nine people died at sea or shortly after they were rescued, another 13 people had to be hospitalized.
The boat had left Dakhla in Morocco's disputed Western Sahara region four days before they were rescued. Prior to their departure, the passengers had already spent several days waiting for the right time to embark, with food and water already being scarce at the time.
Financial compensation for child deaths
Among those who died were a two-year-old boy, who was reportedly thrown overboard, and a two-year-old girl, Eléne H., who died of dehydration in hospital.
The two defendants were sentenced to pay compensation to the parents of the two children — 118,524 euros in each case.
In order to streamline legal proceedings, the prosecution reached an agreement with the defence in the run-up to the trial to accept the two defendants' eyewitness accounts at face value. This included a witness account from Amadou D. saying that the two-year old boy had already been dead for some time when reportedly he threw his body overboard.
Starving at sea
The death of Eléne H. -- who had been traveling with her mother and her then three-year-old sister -- was widely reported on in Spanish media at the time, provoking outrage among many in Spain and beyond. Spanish President Pedro Sánchez sent condolences to the family of the child at the time, as it emerged that the girl had perished from a combination of hunger, cold and thirst.
Police sources had told EFE at the time of the incident that the reason why many of the migrants on the boat were found in such a weakened state was likely due to food rations running low and drinking water having completely run out. Some of those found on the boat had reportedly begun to drink from the sea out of desperation, resulting in further health issues.
The dangerous Atlantic Route
Every year, thousands of migrants set off on the dangerous crossing from northwestern Africa to the Spanish Canary Islands.
Arrivals on the Canary Islands reached a recent peak in 2020. They remained critical last year and are expected to remain high in 2022. The number of deaths at sea en route to the Canaries has significantly increased in recent years -- in 2021, the number of deaths at sea doubled compared to 2020, according to NGO Caminando Fronteras, even though the number of people who arrived decreased slightly.
with EFE, Noticias Canarias