UN raises ‘alarm’ as migrant deaths on crossing to Spain triple this year

At least 631 African migrants have died trying to reach Spain so far this year, nearly three times more than in all of 2017, and the situation has become "alarming", the UN migration agency said on Friday.

More than 120 migrants, from North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, have arrived in Spain each day during November, following a record month in October with over 350 per day, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said.

"This is usually a time of slowing down on these routes, that is not happening in Spain," IOM spokesman Joel Millman told a news briefing. Migrants are using smaller and less seaworthy boats, he said.

About two dozen migrants drowned off the coast of Cadiz in November, he said. The sole survivor of another shipwreck, a teenage boy from Guinea now in hospital with severe hypothermia, told rescuers that he was travelling with nine others including his brother in an inflatable row boat from Tangiers, Morocco.

For years, Spain's Maritime Rescue service has achieved a far better survival rate than on other Mediterranean routes, but it is now struggling to cope with the surging numbersCredit:
Marcus Moreno/AP

The arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants into Europe has fuelled the rise of far-Right parties across the continent in recent years, although overall numbers have in fact fallen considerably since the peak of the crisis in 2015.

Many thousands of people, mostly from Africa and the Middle East, have drowned at sea. So far this year 104,506 migrants have arrived by sea in Europe and 2,075 have perished, according to the IOM’s latest figures.

Both figures are about two-thirds of last year’s totals and around a quarter of the totals from 2016. But while traffic on the main sea route from Libya to Italy has fallen sharply over the past year –  in part due to agreements with Libyan armed groups to fight smuggling – travel has surged across the western Mediterranean to Spain, overwhelming the country’s maritime rescue services. 

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