This Monday, the Spanish NGO Caminando Fronteras published some chilling figures. According to the organization, 4,404 migrants, including 205 children from Western Sahara, Mauritania and Senegal, perished. That is an average of 12 castaways per day. This represents twice as many victims at sea as in 2020, a number never reached, and above all a report confirmed by the Spanish Ministry of the Interior.
Sad record therefore, which saddens Helena Maleno, director of the NGO, responsible for relaying to the emergency services the GPS coordinates of the boats in distress. “Many shipwrecks could be avoided if there was better coordination between the rescue services, which often take too long to send a maritime patrol. Many boats, for fear of legal and financial reprisals, refuse to come to the aid of migrants on the high seas; finally there is clearly a political will on the part of African countries not to control the candidates for departure or to fight against the mafia of smugglers. “
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Result: a real carnage takes place in the open sea. Many of the makeshift boats get lost in the open sea. Many sailors in the Canary Islands – criminalized in the event of an intervention – end up rescuing dead bodies or the remains of objects in their nets.
In the crosshairs of NGOs is the European border control agency Frontex, accused of being an opaque institution, with little political action and a military defense strategy that harms maritime rescue. “This European organization receives a lot of money to equip itself with the latest military technological gadgets provided by private companies, but on the ground its activity hinders maritime rescue professionals and prevents the saving of lives” assures Patricia Posadas of the Somos Red Sos Refugiados platform.
Frontex was deployed in 2010 in the Canary archipelago after the first so-called “cayucos” crisis, these Senegalese fishing boats converted into makeshift boats to reach the Spanish islands. Between 2006 and 2010, thousands of migrants reached the archipelago, causing an unprecedented migration crisis. Then, the Atlantic route had been abandoned by smugglers in favor of the Strait of Gibraltar. However, as explained by several NGOs, the agreement between Morocco, Libya, Turkey and the European Union to intensify controls, has made the Mediterranean basin an area of hostilities. In addition, the violence and forced displacement suffered last year by migrants around the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa, have prompted candidates for exile to reconsider the route of the Canaries.
A dangerous road so cheap
Another factor also explains this resurgence of the Atlantic route: the attractive financial cost of the “adventure”. “Migration movements increased last year, as many emigrants from Central Africa and the Horn of Africa were stranded in transit countries due to mobility restrictions. Many therefore opted for the Canaries, because they had less money due to the pandemic to emigrate and because this route is the most economical, because it is the most dangerous ” explains Matt Herbert, researcher at the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime. According to the NGO Caminando Fronteras, the place on an inflatable boat pushed by derisory 20 horsepower engines, sells for 800 euros against a minimum of 2,000 euros via the Strait of Gibraltar, where controls are much stricter.
Suddenly, the new road is taken by storm. Last year, nearly 23,000 migrants managed to reach the archipelago, causing an overflow of reception centers. Currently, 10,000 migrants are still surviving in makeshift camps without running water or electricity. “The problem is that these people who have experienced shipwrecks are treated on our territory via the protocolunwelcoming of immigration law. They are not seen as victims of a shipwreck which normally offers a status of survivor opening rights of reception “ fulminates the director of the NGO, Helena Maleno, who accuses governments of applying a “sordid necropolitics”.
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