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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

UN: 2,276 refugees died trying to reach Europe last year

The total death toll for those attempting to reach Europe stands at more than 22,000.[Getty]

Date of publication: 27 March, 2021

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"The true crisis on maritime routes to Europe is the lack of unified European Union and African policy aimed at safe, humane migration management."
Out of the 2,276 refugees who died at sea on their voyage to reach Europe last year, about a third perished while undertaking a route to Spain's Canary Islands, the UN’s migration agency revealed on Friday.

However, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the real tally of deaths could be much higher since aid groups reported around five "invisible shipwrecks" - ones that left no survivors, and no confirmed body count.

"Of particular concern is the maritime route to the Canary Islands, which saw a marked increase in attempted crossings and deaths in 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing travel restrictions," the UN report said.

Almost 850 people died trying to reach the islands off the coast of Morocco last year - the highest death toll so far.

The IOM said it found evidence this was due to repercussions of economic hardships many workers in fishing or agriculture have had to face, forcing them to migrate to find economic opportunities.

The journey is particularly difficult because the route from Morocco and West Africa to the Canary Islands poses difficult and lengthy overseas pathways - areas which search-and-rescue operations find difficult to cover fully, the IOM said.

The report states that 3% of the 86,448 who attempted reaching Europe by the sea in 2020 drowned, while 52,037 more people were intercepted by authorities at sea.

"The true crisis on maritime routes to Europe is the lack of unified European Union and African policy aimed at safe, humane migration management," it added.

Two women and a man died onboard an overloaded migrant boat found off the Canary Islands early on Friday while Spanish rescuers managed to save 41 people, the local coastguard said.

A fishing boat spotted the heavily-laden vessel struggling in rough seas just off Poris de Abona on the southeastern shores of Tenerife and raised the alarm.

Among the survivors was a woman, a baby and four children, a coastguard spokesman said.

Separately, the fishing boat managed to rescue another five people, and also recovered the bodies of two women, he added.

The total death toll for those attempting the passage to Europe by land and sea since 2014 stands at more than 22,000.

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