In the deadliest shipwreck recorded to date this year, at least 140 people drowned after a vessel carrying about 200 migrants sank off Senegal, the UN migration agency said.
This follows four shipwrecks in the Central Mediterranean last week and another in the English Channel, prompting the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to call for “unity” between governments, partners and the international community to “dismantle trafficking and smuggling networks taking advantage of desperate youth”.
“It is important we advocate for enhanced legal channels to undermine the traffickers’ business model and prevent loss of life”, Bakary Doumbia, IOM Senegal Chief of Mission, said.
Local eyewitnesses told the agency the vessel sailed last Saturday (24 October) for Spain’s Canary Islands from the coastal town Mbour in western Senegal. A few hours into the journey, the boat caught fire and capsized near Saint-Louis.
The Senegal government and IOM arranged a mission to Saint-Louis to assess needs and provide psycho-social assistance to survivors.
According to news reports, those travelling by sea from Senegal are refused European visas, so risk a perilous voyage with the hopes of earning enough money to support their families back home.
In recent weeks, IOM said departures from West Africa to Spain’s Canary Island increased significantly.
The UN agency has been monitoring coastal departures since early September and said that month alone, 14 boats carrying 663 migrants left Senegal for the Canary Islands – with 26% of them reported running into trouble or being shipwrecked.
IOM estimates there have been roughly 11 000 arrivals to the Canary Islands this year compared to 2 557 in the same period last year. A significant jump, it is still below the 2006 peak when more than 32 000 people arrived seeking entry.
The latest shipwreck brings the known number of deaths along this route in 2020 to at least 414, according to the IOM Missing Migrants Project which recorded 210 fatalities in 2019.