Migrant death toll increases on Atlantic route to Europe

MADRID (AP) — At least 11 people are feared dead after another boat crossing the Atlantic Ocean to get from North Africa to Spain’s Canary Islands became a trap for migrants trying to reach European territory, Spanish authorities and activists reported Tuesday.

The Spanish government’s delegation in the Canary Islands said rescuers retrieved 32 survivors and one body overnight from a rubber boat in waters south of Fuerteventura, the closest of the archipelago’s islands to the African coast. One of the survivors died on the rescue boat.

Some of the survivors told authorities that some 60 people were on board when the boat set off four days ago from a beach near the southern Moroccan town of Tan-Tan, the delegation said.

Walking Borders, a non-profit group that works with migrants in peril and provides assistance to their relatives, said that its research indicated the boat had carried only 42 people when it departed Morocco, leaving up to 11 victims.

The organization, which has become one of the first contact points for African families trying to locate their relatives on the other end of the migration route, claims that some 2,000 people have died so far this year on their way to the Canary Islands. The Atlantic route is one of the most dangerous sea crossings to Europe.

“The human rights crisis at the border needs an urgent political response,” Walking Borders founder Helena Maleno said in a tweet addressed to Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

Despite the initial discrepancies involving Tuesday’s rescue, the International Organization for Migration said it counted nine people as missing and two confirmed casualties from the vessel.

The U.N agency has confirmed the deaths this year of 529 migrants who were attempting to reach the Spanish island chain, but the agency says the number does not reflect the actual death toll since people disappear at sea without ever being reported missing or having their bodies found.

Survivors of other failed crossings also have reported that bodies of fellow passengers were thrown into the sea before rescuers arrived.

Walking Borders said Monday that at least 29 Africans, including seven children, had died on a boat that was the focus of an Aug. 27 rescue. A total of 25 adults and one minor survived.

Alarm Phone, a volunteer network that also assists migrants that find themselves in distress at sea, said Tuesday that interviews with survivors led the group to believe that at least 14 of the 46 people on another boat did not survive the Atlantic crossing after a sudden weather change and strong winds pushed the vessel away away from the archipelago.

Nine of the victims died during the 15 days the boat’s occupants spent at sea without fuel, food or water, Alarm Phone said on its website. Another four died when they were trying to board a merchant ship that came to the rescue after Spanish authorities requested its assistance. And a woman who suffered from diabetes didn’t survive the long journey to the port of Las Palmas, the organization said.

Alarm Phone detected a 47% hike in the Atlantic route’s mortality rate between Aug. 1 and Aug. 20.

“The incredibly long trips along this route can last from several days to weeks and put travelers in very precarious conditions,” it said.

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