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Migrants die crossing sea from Morocco to Spain

30 November 2018

UN alarmed by high death toll on latest Mediterranean route


Migrants disembark from a dinghy on Del Cañuelo beach in southern Spain, after sailing from Morocco, in July

Migrants disembark from a dinghy on Del Cañuelo beach in southern Spain, after sailing from Morocco, in July

A TEENAGE boy from Guinea who was rescued off the coast of Cádiz last week, has become a witness to the increasingly deadly route from North Africa to Spain.

He told the Spanish authorities that he was travelling from Tangiers with nine others, including his brother, in an inflatable rowing boat. Bad weather, and a lack of food and water, had caused several people to die during the journey, and their bodies were lost at sea, he said. He was treated in an intensive care unit, suffering from severe hypothermia.

His story illustrates a situation that the United Nations has described as “alarming”. In total, 675 African migrants have died trying to make the crossing to Spain this year, up from 174 last year. More people have died during the past three months than during all of 2017, and the death rate since August is more than double that recorded for the passage to Italy, and about five times that for Greece.

A spokesman for the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM), Joel Millman, told a news briefing last week that migrants were using smaller and less seaworthy boats. This month, a dinghy arriving at Chilches beach on the Costa del Sol was found to contain the bodies of two migrants. Last week, Spanish rescue services recovered the body of a pregnant woman, and rescued 42 survivors from a sinking boat off the coast of Almería. Thirteen people had already drowned.

As numbers reaching Italy from Libya plummet (from 116,616 to 23,990 year on year), in the wake of a deal struck between the EU and Libya (News, 29 September 2017), those arriving in Spain now make up almost half of those who entered Europe by sea this year. This month, more than 1000 people have arrived every week, down from 2500 in October. In total, 51,984 have arrived, more than during the past three years combined.

paRescued migrants wait on board the Spaniard Maritime Vessel for assistance from a Red Cross team, in Malaga, Spain, last week

This week, the Priest-in-Charge of the Costa del Sol (West) Chaplaincy, the Revd Professor Adrian Low, reported that boats were arriving “along the coastline from Tarifa, just west of Gibraltar, all the way to Marbella and Malaga, but the shortest crossing is from Morocco to Tarifa or to Gibraltar”.

The Church was supplying food to both Caritas and Emmaus and was supporting Collective Calling, a charity that supported refugees both in Europe and Africa, he said.

The founder of Collective Calling, Paul Carr, said that the Red Cross had been authorised to set up a response unit, and that migrants tended to be “whisked off” on arrival. People in Spain were “worried that we are going to be swamped with people landing on shore, rather than thinking about how we can respond to the most vulnerable,” he suggested.

The Chaplain in Costa Almeria, Canon Vincent Oram, said this week that he had heard of “growing support for the right-wing populists”.

The Anglican Chaplain in Fuerteventura, the Revd Bob Horrocks, said that a growing number of migrants were arriving in the Canary Islands.

“The boats tend to be more substantial — small wooden rather then inflatables — and we are not getting reports of fatalities, although that may be simply because there is not as much attention in terms of international patrol and rescue as in the Mediterranean.

“The difficulty here, as elsewhere, is the support and accommodation of unattended minors, although emergency accommodation is being co-ordinated by the local island governments and the Canarian government as a whole.

“The authorities are looking at the best ways to support the migrants, and seem to have reasonably good systems in place. As in other places, the problem is the increasing numbers and the demands that makes on local resources.”

Language difficulties were a barrier to the involvement of chaplaincy congregations, he said, “although we are watching as things develop to see if there are other ways in which we can help”.

After a meeting with the Secretary of State for Social Services this week, the President of the Canary Islands, Fernando Clavijo, gave “assurances that the Canary Islands is offering a joint and coordinated response to the increased number of migrant boats arriving.”

Canary Islands Report reported that, after meeting the 54 children Lanzarote is hosting, the Secretary of State confirmed that the state executive had distributed 38 million euros to support the needs of migrant children, and that work was underway “to improve the response, and also to improve coordination between different administrations”.

It was reported that the Canary Islands have the capacity to accommodate 400 unaccompanied children.

Last week, the IOM reported that a boat carrying 264 migrants had arrived in Sicily. The passengers reported that they had been “stranded in Libya between one and two years. Many insisted they had been kidnapped and then tortured for ransom and sold several times between groups of traffickers.”

The total number who have crossed by sea to Europe this year is 106,229, down from 363,348 in 2016.

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