NGO reports over 6,000 migrants went missing attempting to reach Spain in 2023

Record 6,618 migrants die, disappear on way to Spain by sea in 2023

Spain – At least 6,618 migrants died or went missing in attempts to reach Spain by sea in 2023 as a record number headed for the Canary Islands, according to a migrant rights group.

The figure released by charity Caminando Fronteras (Walking Borders) is almost three times the previous year’s count of 2,390 and marks the highest number of migrant deaths since the organization began keeping track in 2007.

The total includes 384 children and represents a harrowing consequence of the dangerous journey experienced by many migrants trying to reach Spain.

Helena Maleno, the coordinator of Walking Borders, called the rising death toll “shameful” and blamed it on a lack of resources for rescuers.

Additionally, Maleno attributed the surge in migrant deaths and disappearances to migrants departing for Spain from Senegal, where political instability, unemployment, and food scarcity have driven thousands to flee.

An overwhelming majority of fatalities – 6,007 – occurred along the Atlantic migration route from Africa to Spain’s Canary Islands. Increasing control in the Mediterranean has made the Canary Islands a preferred destination for migrants trying to escape poverty and conflict in Africa.

The number of migrants arriving illegally in Spain in 2023 nearly doubled from the previous year, reaching 56,852. Nearly 70 percent of the migrants arrived in the Canary Islands, reflecting the archipelago’s popularity as the destination for migrant boats departing from Morocco, Mauritania, Gambia, and Senegal. The direct journey from Senegal to the Canaries usually takes around a week, but smugglers sometimes opt for more dangerous routes to avoid detection.

Spain’s central government has pledged a 50 million euro ($54 million) aid package to assist the Canary Islands in handling the surge in arrivals. Madrid has also increased cooperation with Senegal and Mauritania to prevent boats from leaving for the Canaries.

According to the International Organization for Migration, over 1,200 migrants died or disappeared last year while attempting to reach Spain. However, the United Nations agency emphasizes that this number is likely “considerably” underestimated, given the difficulty of documenting sea disasters and the fact that most bodies are never recovered.

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