Brussels (Brussels Morning) At least 4,400 migrants were lost at sea while attempting to reach Spanish shores in 2021, more than double the figure recorded in 2020, and the highest total since the monitoring group Walking Borders began keeping count in 2018.
According to the group, more than 90% of those missing or dead were lost in 124 shipwrecks that were bound for Spain’s Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean. The Spanish territory off the west of Africa coast has become the primary goal for migrants attempting to reach Spain since 2020, with only approximately a tenth of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea.
Walking Borders gathers its data from hotlines set up for migrant vessels to call for aid, and from family members of migrants attempting the crossing, who contact the organisation in order to seek information about their relatives.
The group follows each reported missing vessel and attempts to determine its fate. In arriving at its count, it presumes those who have gone missing at sea for more than a month to be dead. Around 95% of its 2021 figures represent missing people, believed most likely to have drowned at sea.
According to a separate count maintained by the UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM), some 955 people died or went missing while braving the Atlantic Ocean to reach the Canary Islands in 2021. Although lower than the Walking Borders’ estimate, the IOM figure also represents a peak since the agency first began tracking this statistic in 2014.
The IOM stresses that its figures, obtained from official records, media reports and other groups, are conservative, and that the real figure is likely to be much higher than reported.
While Spain does keep track of the number of people dying in attempts to reach its borders, its authorities also reported that some 39,000 migrants successfully made the crossing by sea to Spain in 2021, a figure similar to 2020.