A record number of migrants – 32,000 – have managed to make the treacherous boat journey on the Atlantic Ocean to the Canary Islands this year, with many of them coming from Senegal in West Africa.
The number of people who have survived the journey on fragile boats this year passes a previous record in 2006, regional authorities said on Sunday.
The Canary Islands have been used for decades by migrants from Africa as a stepping stone to Europe. Boats also depart from Gambia, Mauritania, Morocco and Western Sahara.
According to an Associated Press tally of figures released by Spain’s Interior Ministry and local emergency services, at least 32,029 people landed on the Canary Islands from 1 January to 5 November, compared with the 2006 small boats crisis when 31,678 people made it to the Canaries.
Smugglers in Senegal pack young people looking for better opportunities in Europe into old fishing boats, charging the equivalent of around €500. The journey from Senegal to the Canaries usually takes a week of difficult upwind sailing for around 1,600 km.
Since Friday, 739 people have been rescued in the Atlantic Ocean off El Hierro, the smallest and most westerly island in the archipelago, the Spanish coastguard said.
Two people were found dead in four boats and two other people died later in hospital, said the Spanish Civil Guard on Saturday, which also took part in the rescue in which women and children were among those saved.
Fernando Clavijo, the Canary Islands regional chief, said the figures showed the scale of the humanitarian crisis faced by the islands and called for more help from the Spanish government and the European Union (see Tweet below).
‘The 2006 data have been surpassed but the response of the State and EU is not the same. Migration management on the southern border must be a priority on the Spanish and European agenda,’ wrote Clavijo.
The number of arrivals has recently jumped as milder weather and calmer seas since September have made it more feasible to attempt the still perilous crossing from Africa.
Faced with the record number of arrivals this year, Spain’s Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska flew to the Senegalese capital of Dakar last week to press the government to do more to stop boats from leaving.
Grande-Marlaska urged his Senegalese counterpart, Sidiki Kaba, to ‘act more quickly’ and avoid more deaths.
‘We agreed that we must combat irregular immigration with force,’ Kaba said, acknowledging irregular migration as a ‘huge challenge’ for Spain, Senegal and the European Union.
Spain has nearly 40 police and civil guard officers, four boats, a helicopter and an aircraft deployed in Senegal to monitor the country’s more than 500-kilometre coast and crack down on smuggling networks in collaboration with local authorities.
Madrid says the joint effort has successfully stopped 7,132 people from leaving Senegal this year.
Las cifras no deben estar por encima pero en este caso sí definen la emergencia humanitaria que afronta #Canarias. Se han superado los datos de 2006 pero la respuesta del Estado y de la #UE no es la misma. La gestión migratoria en la frontera Sur deber ser una prioridad en la… https://t.co/VgUaVPRcZl— Fernando Clavijo (@FClavijoBatlle) November 4, 2023
#Migración | Durante este domingo han llegado a #Canarias cinco embarcaciones: dos a Gran Canaria y El Hierro y una localizada al sur de Tenerife— RTVC (@RTVCes) October 22, 2023
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