Migrant deaths are not uncommon in an area of the Atlantic that separates the West Coast of Africa and Spain’s Canary Islands, but the latest boat accident includes an unusually high number of women and children who have apparently perished.
Around 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, according to a Spanish migrants rights activist said.
Helena Maleno, founder of the NGO Walking Borders, tweeted late on 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.
Bodies by the river
From time to time, a body floating down the river separating Ethiopia’s troubled Tigray region from Sudan was a silent reminder of a war conducted in the shadows. But in recent days, the corpses are turning up in a regular flow.
Bloated, drained of color from their journey, the bodies were often mutilated: genitals severed, eyes gouged, a missing limb.
The Associated Press reported dozens of bodies floating down the Tekeze River earlier this week and saw six of the graves on Wednesday.
Doctors who saw the bodies said one was tattooed with a common name in the Tigrinya language and others had the facial markings common among Tigrayans, raising fresh alarm about atrocities in the least-known area of the Tigray war.
“They are from Tigray,” said Garey Youhanis, a Tigrayan who helped bury several bodies found on Sunday.
Though Tigray forces in June reclaimed much of the region as Ethiopian and allied forces retreated, western Tigray is still controlled by authorities from Ethiopia’s neighbouring Amhara region, who have cleared out many ethnic Tigrayans while saying the land is historically theirs.
More than 60,000 Tigrayans fled to Sudan, where thousands remain in makeshift camps a short walk from the river in the hope of hearing news from those who still arrive.
“In the last one week, 43 bodies were buried around this river,” the surgeon from the nearby Tigray town of Humera, Tewodros Tefera, said.
He and other refugees believe the bodies were dumped into the river at Humera, which has seen some of the worst violence since the war began in November.
Ethiopia’s government has accused the rival Tigray forces of dumping the bodies themselves for propaganda purposes.
The bodies in the river brought new fears of ethnic cleansing, or the forcing of a population from a region through expulsions and other violence.
“We are deeply concerned by the latest developments,” the UN refugee agency in Sudan said on Thursday.
It confirmed seeing one of the bodies pulled from the river along with “what appear to be several fresh graves.” It said it was unable to confirm the identities of the dead or how they died.