Some 86 migrants from sub-Saharan African countries were rescued on Monday aboard a boat off the Canary Islands, Spanish rescuers said. A plane dispatched by rescuers initially estimated that the number of people on board this boat could be “about 200” and that it therefore appeared to correspond to a boat wanted in the same area after having left Senegal a few years ago. nearly two weeks.
“We cannot yet confirm it 100% but it is likely that it is the same”, underlined Salvamento Maritimo, the Spanish sea rescue service which finally admitted to having made a mistake in its estimate. “The figure (of around 200) that we had given earlier came from the plane” which had located the boat “but it is difficult for an air means to determine the number of people” exact, justified a spokesperson. The situation remained confused and, questioned by AFP, this spokesperson was unable to indicate whether another boat was adrift in the same area with around 200 people on board.
Two other boats missing
The migrants rescued on Monday are 80 men and 6 women. A rescue ship at sea brought them back to the island of Gran Canaria where they were greeted by Red Cross workers who provided them with medical care, an AFP photographer noted. According to the NGO Caminando Fronteras, which gets its information from calls from migrants or their relatives, a boat left on June 27 from Kafountine, a small coastal town in southern Senegal, located about 1,700 kilometers from the Canary coast, with about 200 people on board.
“The families informed us of the disappearance of the boat, which they had not heard from for several days” and “we alerted the Spanish and Moroccan emergency services”, indicated the founder of this NGO, Helena Maleno, in an audio message. According to Caminando Fronteras, two other boats that left Senegal on June 23 are also missing with around 120 people on board in total.
Senegal, and more particularly the South of the country, is one of the points of departure towards Europe for illegal migrants. And Spain one of the main gateways. “We have confirmation that there were migrants who left. We have no news from them,” Kafountine mayor David Diatta told AFP. “These are Senegalese, Gambians, Guineans, … Most of the time, they are foreigners who do not come from the city, who do not live in the area,” he explained. According to him, they leave from Kafountine because the city is close to many islands and bolongs, inlets which are so many hiding places for the suitors on this long journey and their smugglers.
“As a local authority, we tried to take awareness-raising measures, but the state’s silence is regrettable. The gendarmes on the spot are very few in number and there is a lack of means “to stop the departures of migrant canoes, deplores David Diatta. At the end of June 2022, a fire on a departing canoe had caused the death of around fifteen migrants and injured around twenty.
A dangerous crossing
“People from outside organize themselves as they please” to leave, “and it is only after the fact that we know about it”, estimates Abdoulaye Demba, coordinator of the local artisanal fishing council of the commune. . “None of the families affected will come to us directly because everyone knows it is a criminal phenomenon. Anyone who helps with the departure must be brought to justice,” he explains.
According to the latest figures from the Spanish Ministry of the Interior, 12,704 migrants arrived in Spain illegally in the first half of the year, the majority of them (7,213) in the Canary Islands, a figure down by 11.35% compared to the corresponding period of 2022. Since few years, the migratory route to the Canary Islands is particularly busy due to the tightening of controls in the Mediterranean. Shipwrecks are frequent there, the crossing being particularly dangerous. According to the International Organization for Migration, 126 migrants died or disappeared on the crossing to the Canary Islands in the first half of the year. Caminando Fronteras gives the figure of 778 dead or missing.