4,400 migrants lost at sea to Spain in 2021, double the previous year

BARCELONA – More than 4,400 migrants, including at least 205 children, were lost at sea trying to reach Spain in 2021, a monitoring group said on Monday – more than double the previous year and the most since that the group started counting in 2018.

The Walking Borders group, or Caminando Fronteras, has blamed increasingly dangerous roads, substandard boats and the fear of some ships to help migrants at sea for the upsurge in deaths. According to official Spanish statistics, 39,000 undocumented migrants managed to reach Spain by sea or land last year, a figure similar to the previous year.

Walking Borders said more than 90% of those missing or dead were lost in 124 shipwrecks en route to Spain’s Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean as of December 20. Since 2020, the islands off the African coast have become the main destination for migrants trying to reach Spain, with a much smaller share trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to the Spanish mainland.

Helena Maleno, founder of Caminando Fronteras, told Reuters the group collected its data from hotlines set up for migrants on ships in difficulty to call for help, and from members of the family looking for information.

The group is investigating the fate of each boat. He presumes that those who have been missing at sea for at least a month are dead. Almost 95% of the figures represent missing persons.

The United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM) counted 955 people dead or missing in 2021 trying to reach the Canary Islands by December 22, the highest figure documented since 2014.

IOM gets its data from official files, media reports and other groups, including Walking Borders, but says its numbers are conservative and the actual toll is likely higher.

Spain does not keep figures on those who died trying to reach its shores, and a spokesperson for the Interior Ministry declined to comment on the latest figures.