The migrants frequently travel to Europe from Africa on unseaworthy boats or rubber dinghies (thematic image) | Photo: Picture-alliance/ROPI
The migrants frequently travel to Europe from Africa on unseaworthy boats or rubber dinghies (thematic image) | Photo: Picture-alliance/ROPI

Almost 2,100 migrants are estimated to have died trying to reach Spain by sea during the first half of 2021. The death toll is close to figures for the entire previous year, according to the non-governmental organization Caminando Fronteras.

In a report published on Tuesday (July 8), the Spanish non-governmental organization Caminando Fronteras (Walking Borders) found that 2,087 people, including 341 women and 96 children, had died or gone missing while trying to reach Spain by sea during the first six months of this year. The numbers are very close to the total deaths recorded last year.

The 2,087 migrants from 18 nations, mainly in West Africa but also from Bangladesh, Syria and Yemen, perished in attempts to get to Spain between January and June of this year, compared to 2,170 during all of 2020.

The vast majority of these deaths (1,922) were the result of shipwrecks on the route to the Canary Islands.

"It's been a horrendous year," Helena Maleno, an activist who leads the NGO, said at a news conference called to present the group's report.

The Spanish NGO higlighted that the figures are five times higher than those registered during the same period of last year and the highest it has encountered since it began recording migrant deaths at sea in the region 14 years ago.

Dangerous conditions

The rise in fatalities is partly due to the dangerous conditions at sea on the Atlantic archipelago which is notoriously dangerous because of the strong currents. Since late 2019 increased patrols along Europe's southern coast have also dramatically hindered crossings through the Mediterranean.

Maleno blamed this year's increase in deaths on a greater use of inflatable boats on this route, which are less safe, and on inadequate cooperation between the rescue services of Spain and Morocco.

According to Spain's interior ministry 6,952 migrants arrived in the Canaries between January and June this year, compared with 2,706 over the same period in 2020.

Lack of cooperation

There has been growing tension between the two countries since a political crisis in May, which resulted in the entry of over 10,000 people from Morocco into Ceuta, a tiny Spanish enclave. This has affected the cooperation between the two nations, "there is no coordination. Information is not flowing between the two states," Maleno explained.

There are also a lack of rescue attempts to save boats in distress, even when the NGO sounds the alarm, she added.

The higher figures are also due to the fact that more family members of migrants are reporting their loved ones going missing at sea, Maleno added. The disparity in figures between those of the IOM, the UN migration agency, and Caminando Fronteras is due to the fact that the IOM differentiates confirmed deaths from those missing at sea.

The report was released just as Spanish police arrested two people -- an alleged trafficker and alleged captain of the boat -- in relation to the deaths of more than 20 people, including a five-year-old child, who drowned trying to reach the Canaries. The remaining 29 people were rescued from the vessel on June 30 after drifting at sea for 13 days.


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