Spanish rescue workers search for survivors in the Canary Islands near Lanzarote on June 18, 2021 | Photo: Reuters
Spanish rescue workers search for survivors in the Canary Islands near Lanzarote on June 18, 2021 | Photo: Reuters

A migrant boat attempting to reach the Canary Islands capsized only half an hour after leaving the city of Dakhla in Morocco. A total of 42 people drowned, including eight children and 30 women.

The NGO Caminando Fronteras confirmed the deaths that took place on Thursday, August 5, adding that six women and four men survived the tragedy at sea. One of the survivors reportedly lost her two children.

The founder of the Spanish charity, Helena Maleno, on her Twitter account, wrote that about 30 minutes after leaving Dakhla in southern Morocco, "the boat began to drift off its course." The boat reportedly soon capsized after being hit by a wave; fishermen who witnessed the scene alerted the police.

Having compiled data from Moroccan and Spanish authorities as well as information from the families of victims, Caminando Fronteras says that at least 2,087 migrants have died or disappeared trying to reach Spanish soil in makeshift boats in the first half of 2021. 

The vast majority of the deaths have occurred on the route from the West African coast to the Canary Islands over the Atlantic Ocean. Only about 50 victims are believed to have perished on their way from Morocco to mainland Spain across the Mediterranean. 

'A whole day spent drowning'

According to Helena Maleno, the number of deaths this year has skyrocketed due to greater use of inflatable boats on the migrant route, which are less safe. There is an acute shortage of wooden boats in the region.

She added that as there is insufficient cooperation between Spanish and Moroccan rescue services at sea: "There is no coordination. The information does not circulate between the two states," she explained, adding that in her experience, neither Spanish nor Moroccan boats would reach migrants at peril in time.

"Migrants can spend a whole day drowning," she commented.

Read more: Gran Canaria: Migrants sleep on the streets to avoid deportation

Daily rescue operations

However, in recent days, there have been near-daily rescue missions carried out on the dangerous migrant route. On August 5, Spanish rescuers saved 26 sub-Saharan Africans off the coast of Gran Canaria.

Moroccan authorities in Laayoune meanwhile intercepted 75 sub-Saharan African migrants whose boat had come adrift. In a second operation, 54 people were also rescued. In Laayoune itself, 79 would-be migrants from sub-Saharan Africa preparing to set sail for the Canary Islands were arrested. Moroccan security services have also thwarted two departure attempts, one in Boujdour, south of Laayoune, and the other in Amgriou, in the province of Tarfaya.

Read more: Moroccan navy intercepts more than 300 Europe-bound migrants

So far this year, the Canary Islands have received nearly 200 boats with a total of 7,531 migrants — 136.5% more than in the same period in 2020, according to the latest information from the Spanish Interior Ministry.

In total, more than 16,500 migrants arrived in Spain by irregular means in the first seven months of 2021. This number excludes the mass arrivals in the enclave of Ceuta on May 17 and 18, many of whom have since been returned to Morocco.

This article has been translated from the French original by Sertan Sanderson.


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