The bodies of 13 Moroccans have been recovered after their boat sank off the country's southern coast. They were reportedly attempting to reach Spain's Canary Islands. In a separate development, some migrants from Morocco reportedly made it into the Spanish territory of Melilla over New Year’s Eve.
There was one woman confirmed among the dead, while eight further passengers remained unaccounted for.
According to the AFP news agency, a total of 45 passengers on board the inflatable boat were attempting to reach the Canary Islands.
They said they were en route to Las Palmas when the boat hit a rock and sank "10 minutes after" embarking near the town of Mirleft, according to a report carried by the online news service Hespress.
The Arabic-language site reported that 24 of them were rescued, adding that the unsafe passage had cost a minimum of $1,900 per person.
Also read: Almost 200 migrants arrive on Canary Islands
A popular migrant route filled with dangers
Located at Africa's northwestern tip, Morocco has grown into a transit country for many migrants, particularly sub-Saharan Africans. Tens of thousands also try each year from the coastlines of other North and West African countries.
Meanwhile, Spain has evolved into one of the main gateways for these migrants trying to reach Europe, with many hoping to make the way across the sea to the Canary Islands.
Spanish human rights group Caminando Fronteras said in December that more than 11,200 migrants have died or gone missing while trying to reach Spain since 2018 -- at an average rate of six people per day. The route between Morocco and the Canary Islands alone accounted for 7,692 of these deaths, the group added.
Meanwhile, Spain's interior ministry said on December 15 that a total of 27,789 migrants had reached Spanish territory using irregular means of entry this year, including 15,742 arrivals in the Canary Islands.
Also read: Morocco arrests 25 migrants near Spanish border
Crossings at Melilla border over New Year's
Meanwhile in a separate and unrelated development, a group of Moroccan migrants managed to enter Spain's Melilla exclave on New Year’s Eve, according to the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) charity.
The NGO added that dozens of others attempted the crossing at the same time.
Melilla and its sister enclave Ceuta have long become another main migration route into the EU for Africans seeking to escape poverty and violence. People who make it across the border are allowed to file for asylum and have their individual case assessed.
In many instances, however, it is found that they don’t qualify for asylum as such -- a fact that people smugglers facilitating such journeys often omit to tell the migrants who pay them to help cross into the EU.
The crossing into Melilla and Ceuta can also be highly dangerous as border authorities are on guard and try to defend the EU's outer border with all their power, which can result in stampedes and crushes.
An attempted mass crossing into Melilla in late June left at least 23 people dead, while some say that death toll may likely be higher.
Also read: Spain's prosecutors drop Melilla migrant deaths probe