42 Migrants Feared Dead as Boat Capsizes Off Western Sahara

42 Migrants Feared Dead as Boat Capsizes Off Western Sahara
Smugglers lift onto a vehicle a fishing boat intended to be used to transport migrants to the Canary Islands, in a remote desert out of the town of Dakhla in Morocco-administered Western Sahara, on Dec. 22, 2020. (Mosa'ab Elshamy/AP Photo)

BARCELONA, Spain—Some 42 migrants, including 30 women and eight children, are believed to have died when 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, founder of the NGO Walking Borders, tweeted late Thursday that she had spoken to one of 10 survivors who claimed to have lost two children in the accident that occurred as the group was trying to reach Spain’s Canary Islands in the Atlantic.

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 that it had rescued 63 people near the Canary Islands.

Migrant deaths are not uncommon 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 Migration Agency 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 to the same period last year, according to IOM.

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