Boat capsizes off Western Sahara, 42 migrants feared dead

According to aid agency Walking Across Borders, the dead likely included 30 women, eight children and four men.

The boat accident included an unusually high number of women and children who have apparently perished [File: Borja Suarez/Reuters]

Some 42 migrants, including 30 women and eight children, are feared dead after their boat capsized in rough seas shortly after setting sail from the coastal town of Dakhla, in Western Sahara, a Spanish migrants rights activist said.

Helena Maleno Garzon, founder of the charity Caminando Fronteras (Walking Borders), said the dead included 30 women, eight children and four men. Only 10 of the occupants survived.

“We must not get used to such tragedies,” another migrant aid organisation, Spanish Commission for Refugees (CEAR), posted on Twitter.

Moroccan officials in Dakhla could not be immediately reached for official confirmation. However, local media reported that 12 bodies had washed ashore on Thursday while 10 people were rescued by fishermen off the Dakhla coast.

Morocco claims the disputed Western Sahara territory, annexed in 1975, and its navy operates there. The Polisario Front seeks the territory’s independence.

Further north, along the Western Sahara coast, the official MAP news agency reported on Thursday that the Moroccan Navy had rescued 30 migrants just south of Laayoune. Naval vessels were still looking for 59 others, including 14 women and four children, in a nearby stretch of water hundreds of miles from Dakhla.

Separately, the Spanish Maritime Rescue Service said on Friday it had rescued 63 people near the Canary Islands.

Migrant deaths are common in an area of the Atlantic that separates the West Coast of Africa and Spain’s Canary Islands. But this most recent boat accident included an unusually high number of women and children who have apparently perished.

Shipwrecks on the West African route to the Canaries are often hard to verify and most victims’ bodies are never recovered.

The UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) has reported at least 250 migrants died on the route to the Canary Islands in the first six months of 2021 while Walking Borders reported many more victims on the same route for the same time period, counting almost 2,000.

In the first half of 2021, arrivals increased by 156 percent compared with the same period last year, according to IOM.

The number of undocumented migrants and refugees arriving on Spain’s Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean was more than eight times higher last year than in 2019, with the effect of COVID-19 on tourism and other industries in north and sub-Saharan Africa pushing many more to embark on the dangerous journey.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies