2.087 people have died in half a year trying to cross the southern Spanish border

In just six months the same number of people have lost their lives as in the whole of 2020

3 min
Shipwreck of a "cayuco" trying to reach the Canary Islands in a photograph provided by the air force

"Today is a sad day because the figures we will give are terrible and very sad", anticipated activist and researcher Helena Maleno, before releasing the latest monitoring data on the right to life on the southern border of the NGO Caminando Fronteras. The organisation's report details that up to 2,087 people have died during the first six months of the year trying to reach Spain through the migratory routes of the southern border.

This is the most tragic six months since 2014, when the NGO began monitoring this, and the worst month has been June, with 465 fatalities. If the figure for the first six months is compared with the same period last year, the increase in fatalities is 526% and little short of reaching the number of people who lost their lives throughout 2020: 2,170. "Of course, I dare say that it is the most horrific year and that is why we launch an alert to the Spanish government", Maleno denounced during the presentation of the report on Tuesday.

The organisation has this data thanks to relatives or acquaintances who send them information about people who are in danger or have disappeared at sea during their migratory journey. Maleno explained that they receive alerts through a 24-hour phone line that never stops ringing, which then triggers a complicated follow-up to find out if people have been shipwrecked, or if there are survivors or missing. "Despite the fact that it is very difficult to know the real data, the relatives are calling more and more because they want us to count the victims, to look for them. This allows us to have more impact, while the states deny the information", said the activist. In addition to the fatalities, there are also disappearances. Out of the total number, 95.83% of the bodies are not recovered. "The number of identifications once [the bodies] are found is even lower", said Maleno, who denounced the fact that families cannot bury their relatives with dignity. "There is a lack of coordination between countries and protocols are not being followed properly.

The place of origin of those trying to reach Spain are several. The NGO has identified at least 18 different nationalities. The people who come from West African countries, such as Guinea or Ivory Coast, stand out. But there are also those who come from Yemen or Mali, countries in conflict, or Senegal, where the presence of foreign fishing boats leaves fishermen in poverty. "There are difficult times ahead for the poorest people in the world and we have to be able to respond", said the secretary of the Federation of African Associations in the Canary Islands, Teodoro Bondyale.

The Canary Islands route, the most dangerous one

The migratory routes of the western Euro-African border or southern border that the NGO Caminando Fronteras follows are those of the Alboran Sea, the Strait of Gibraltar, Algeria and the Canary Islands. The latter is currently the most active, the organisation says. The number of people who have died since the beginning of the year trying to reach the islands is already 1,922, and exceeds the fatalities of the whole of last year. In fact, the last known tragedy and the most serious in the last decade resulted in 3 survivors, 24 dead and 32 missing who were trying to reach the islands with a cayuco. "The situation is worrying", said Maleno.

One of the particularities of the Canary route that emerges from the report is the increase in the number of female and child victims. "In many boats the number of women outnumbered men", Maleno explained. Of the total number of fatalities along the entire southern border, 341 were women, while 96 children have lost their lives.

Political inaction

One of the reasons for the increase in the number of deaths is the increase in the precariousness of the type of boats and their materials - many (33%) are made of tyres - as well as the lack of experience in open sea navigation of many of the people who try to undergo the crossing, according to the NGO. All of this, however, is compounded by rescue conditions and state policies. "There is a direct impact of border defense control policies on mortality", Maleno said. Added to this is the political and diplomatic crisis between Spain and Morocco, which, according to Maleno, has worsened the situation. "We ask the Spanish state to hold urgent meetings in the different ministries. There is a lack of means to defend life", she said.