According to the UN migration agency, 785 migrants from mostly western African countries died in the first eight months of this year trying to reach Spain’s Canary Islands via the Atlantic. The month of August was particularly deadly. Meanwhile, over the weekend, some 340 migrants arrived on the island group on a single day.
In an online statement published on Friday (September 24), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that almost half of all deaths on the Atlantic route – 379 – that were recorded in the first eight months of this year occurred in August. This means that fewer migrants perished in the first eight months of last year than in the month of August 2021, according to the UN agency.
The IOM noted that the actual number of deaths is likely a lot higher. Many ‘invisible shipwrecks’ without survivors are never detected and therefore couldn’t be checked, the UN agency said in its statement.
Indeed, the estimate of the death toll by Spanish non-governmental organization Caminando Fronteras (Walking Borders) is usually higher than the IOM’s: The NGO recently said that more than 2,000 people had died or gone missing while trying to the Canaries by sea during the first six months of this year.
Based on interviews with survivors of shipwrecks, the IOM warned that “journeys are becoming riskier.”
“People were already starting to die,” one of seven survivors of a boat carrying 54 people that capsized close to the Mauritanian coast in mid-August told the IOM. “Their bodies were thrown into the sea so that the boat would not be too heavy and we would all die. There were people who looked like they had gone mad, sometimes they bit each other, they shouted, and they threw themselves into the sea.”
Large number of arrivals continue
On Sunday (September 26), the Spanish maritime rescue service said that eight boats with some 340 people on board landed on the Canary Islands, seven of them in the north of Lanzarote and one in the south of Gran Canaria.
The first dinghy, which arrived at dawn, had 44 migrants on board – 24 men, 14 women, three minors and three babies. All of them were reportedly safe and sound, except for one of the passengers, who was pregnant and taken to hospital, according to Spanish media.
Several other migrants who arrived on the other seven boats were reportedly very weak and taken care of by medical teams, reports El Pais.
On Monday morning emergency services rescued another 33 migrants south of Gran Canaria, among them a child and two women, one of whom did not survive, according to EFE.
Compared to the same period last year, this year’s number of arrivals to the Canaries also increased, the IOM said. In the first eight months, 9,386 migrants from mostly African countries arrived on the archipelago.
This year’s figure, however, is dwarfed by the last four months of 2020, when almost 20,000 mainly African migrants landed on the shores of the Canaries. That’s more than twice as many as in the first eight months of this year.
Last year’s large number of arrivals overwhelmed authorities and arrival facilities. After initially being put up in hotels and other touristic facilities, mostly empty due to the coronavirus pandemic, thousands were moved to camps whose conditions have been criticized by rights groups.
The risks of crossing the Atlantic are high. The ocean has strong currents, and attempting to cross it is a lot more dangerous than crossing the Mediterranean.
Still, as Spanish newspaper El Paísreports, the end of summer likely doesn’t mean the end of attempted Atlantic boat crossings from Africa to the Canaries. With favorable weather conditions in early fall “like last year, arrivals will peak in October and November.”