The number of people attempting to reach Spain’s Canary Islands from Africa continues to rise, but at a huge cost. One in five deaths or disappearances of migrants recorded by the UN last year happened on the Atlantic Ocean route.
Worldwide thousands of people lose their lives or go missing each year attempting dangerous migration routes. In 2021 a new record was set with the UN migration agency, IOM, recording nearly 5,800 migrant deaths, a large number of them in the Mediterranean Sea. The agency also reported a substantial increase in fatalities on the Atlantic route to the Spanish Canary Islands, with over 1,000 deaths recorded in 2021 – more than any previous year for a decade.
Only five years ago in 2017, the IOM's Missing Migrants Project counted just one death on the Atlantic route out of a total of 1,669 lives lost that year throughout Africa (excluding deaths in the Mediterranean which are counted separately).
Since then the numbers have been increasing steadily: 43 in 2018, 202 in 2019, 877 in 2020 and 1,109 last year, according to figures obtained by the Spanish news agency EFE.
The IOM says that the true number of deaths on the Atlantic route is certain to be much higher, as boats often disappear without trace. These 'invisible shipwrecks' are believed to account for hundreds or even thousands more lives lost.
The group Caminando Fronteras, which includes in its count those whose bodies are not recovered but whose families reported their departure from the African coast, estimated the number of deaths on the Atlantic route in 2021 at 4,016.
Also read: Rising migrant deaths worldwide top 4,470 in 2021
Gateway to Europe
According to the European Border and Coast Agency, Frontex, 194,948 people entered the EU irregularly in 2021: 22,504 through the Spanish Atlantic islands, 18,254 through the Western Mediterranean, 65,362 through the Central Mediterranaen and 20,373 through the Eastern Mediterranean, 60,540 via the Balkans and 7,915 through East European countries such as Lithuania, Latvia and Belarus.
The Canary Islands were effectively the gateway to Europe in 2021 for 11.5% of all migrants who irregularly entered the EU via land or sea borders. As a percentage of arrivals by sea, the Canary Islands received 17.7% of the 126,493 irregular arrivals recorded in 2021.
According to the IOM and Frontex data on 2021 taken together, one person died en route to the Canary Islands for every 20.3 who arrived (4.9%, or 1,109 out of 22,504), EFE notes. This is twice the mortality rate on the Mediterranean crossing, where around one in 50 people died (1.9%, 2,048 out of 103,989).
Children on dangerous crossing
It is not only adults who die at sea trying to reach the Canary Islands. In 2021 at least 26 children and adolescents died on the Atlantic route, while seven deaths of children were recorded in the first quarter of 2022, according to the IOM.
Data from the Red Cross show that nearly 15% of migrants arriving in the Canary Islands are under the age of 18, EFE reports. In the first three months of 2022 alone, 42 infants, 88 children from three to 11 years old and 585 adolescents from 12 to 17 years old have landed on the islands.
70% increase in Canary Islands arrivals
A total of 97 immigrants arrived on Gran Canaria on Monday (April 4) in two small boats, according to the Emergency and Security Coordination Center of the Canary Islands 112.
The first boat was rescued late Monday with 64 people of North African origin on board. They were transferred to the Arguineguín pier and later taken to hospital for evaluation. All were said to be in good health, Europa Press news agency reported. Later on Monday night the search and rescue authorities rescued a second boat with 33 people on board.
Continued daily arrivals on the islands are reflected in the figures published by the Spanish interior ministry last week, which show an increase in irregular arrivals to Spain during the first three months of 2022 of nearly 35% to 8,707. The vast majority (7,589) arrived in boats.
So far this year more than 5,871 people have arrived in the Canary Islands irregularly, an increase of 70.9% on the first three months of 2021.
Elsewhere in Spain the number of irregular arrivals by sea was down in areas such as the Mediterranean and the North African city of Ceuta. In Melilla, the other Spanish enclave in North Africa, 43 people arrived by sea in the first quarter of 2022, compared with none in the same period in 2021.
Migrants continued to take the highly dangerous route of jumping the border fence with Morocco: 1,118 people have entered Ceuta and Melilla this way so far this year, 778 more than last year.
With EFE, Europa Press, Canarias7