At least 50 African migrants have drowned after their boats sank on their way to Spain’s Canary Islands, according to news reports released on Thursday.
One of the vessels broke down off the coast of Mauritania, resulting in at least 40 deaths. The second shipwreck took place near the coast of Western Sahara, and left at least 10 people dead.
The Atlantic route is the most dangerous way into Spain for migrants because of its length, the presence of undercurrents, and limited coast guard resources in the area.
Our boat broke down. For a long time we did not receive aid. It was every man for himselfShipwreck survivor
Last year 170 people died along this route, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The first vessel had a breakdown and spent several days adrift before being found, a Mauritania security source told Spain’s Efe news agency. According to this source, the occupants of the vessel jumped into the sea and drowned. The tragedy took place in international waters, according to Agence France Presse (AFP). There was one survivor who was found “by chance” by Mauritanian authorities along the coast near Nouadhibou.
The survivor, a citizen of Guinea, was taken to hospital and has stated that the vessel had departed from Morocco on its way to the Canary Islands. He was unable to recall the date that they set off, or how many days they were out at sea.
“Our boat broke down. For a long time we did not receive aid. It was every man for himself,” he said in statements reported by AFP. “I think they are all dead. I am the only survivor.”
Increased border controls in northern Morocco are pushing the migration routes to the Atlantic side
Vincent Cochetel, the Special Envoy of the UNHCR for the Central Mediterranean, lamented the tragedy on Twitter, and said that “UNHCR and IOM along with authorities and partners are trying to step up efforts to prevent such tragedies, but traffickers keep lying to their clients.”
The bodies of the victims who set off in the second vessel were found on Wednesday by Moroccan fishermen and by members of the Royal Navy, according to Efe reports. Ten survivors were rescued.
Helena Maleno, a human rights activist and spokesperson for the Spanish non-profit Caminando Fronteras, wrote in her Twitter account that 27 people drowned in the second boat, not 10 as reported, and that an unknown number of people are still missing.
Increased border controls in northern Morocco are pushing the migration routes to the Atlantic side, where the nearest of the Canary Islands lies around 95 kilometers west of the Moroccan coast. In order to avoid being caught, the boats are starting off from increasingly faraway spots. The rickety vessels are sent off without enough fuel and no navigation instruments.
There have been three shipwrecks in the area this week alone. On Monday, Moroccan authorities found seven bodies and rescued 40 migrants who were trying to reach the Canary Islands.
The largest tragedy of recent times on the Atlantic route took place in December 2019, when 60 citizens of Gambia drowned on their way to Spain.
English version by Susana Urra.