Nearly 2,200 migrants died trying to reach Spain by sea this year, most on their way to the Canary Islands. The migrant rights group Caminando Fronteras said a reduction in rescue services was partly to blame.
A total of 2,170 migrants died trying to get to Spain by boat this year, compared with 893 in 2019, according to the Spanish non-governmental organization Caminando Fronteras (Walking Borders).
Fatality rate increased
The increase in migrant deaths enroute to Spain can not fully be linked to an increase in crossing attempts.
In 2020, there were just over 39,500 migrants who arrived irregularly on Spanish shores, according the the UN refugee agency UNHCR. In 2019, that number was roughly 26,000.
This means that the number of migrant deaths enroute to Spain increased by over 140% in 2020, while the number of sea arrivals only increased by 50%.
Deadly route to the Canaries
85% of this year's deaths, or 1,851, happened as a result of 45 shipwrecks on the route to the Canary Islands, Caminando Fronteras said in a report.
In 2020, migrant crossing attempts to the Canary islands -- a group of islands that belong to Spain located off the northwestern coast of Africa -- increased dramatically. Meanwhile, crossing attempts to mainland Spain decreased significantly.
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Fewer rescue services
Helena Maleno, an activist with Caminando Fronteras, blamed the rise in deaths this year on the "dismantlement of rescue services" and a "lack of coordination" between the countries that carry out sea rescues in the region – Spain, Mauritania, Senegal and Morocco – causing delays in launching rescue operations.
She also pointed out the greater distance needed to travel to the Canaries.
The shortest distance between mainland Spain and Africa (roughly 20 kilometers) is much shorter than that between the Canaries and Africa (about 100 kilometers). The Atlantic route to the Canary Islands is also known for strong currents.
More attempt Atlantic route
Figures from the Spanish interior ministry show that between January 1 and November 30, a total of 19,566 people landed on Canaries, compared with just 1,993 a year earlier.
One reason for the rise in the number of people attempting the Atlantic route from Africa to the Canary islands is said to be increased patrolling in the Mediterranean, off the coast of southern mainland Spain.
The large numbers of people arriving on the Canary Islands overwhelmed migrant reception centers there, forcing thousands to live in a makeshift tent camp on a pier in the island of Gran Canaria until last month. They were eventually transferred to military facilities and hotels on the island.