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IMMIGRATION

Almost 2,100 migrants have died trying to reach Spain in first half of 2021: NGO

Nearly 2,100 migrants died trying to reach Spain by sea during the first six months of 2021, roughly the same amount as during all of last year, a migrant rights group said on Wednesday.

Almost 2,100 migrants have died trying to reach Spain in first half of 2021: NGO
Tens of thousands of migrants migrants have arrived in Spain by sea and land in 2021, but hundreds if not thousands have also died attempting the crossing. (Photo by Marcos Moreno / AFP)

That is five times more deaths than were registered during the same period of last year and the highest number for a first half of the year since non-governmental organisation Caminando Fronteras, which monitors migratory flows, started keeping records in 2007.

“It’s been a horrendous year,” Helena Maleno, an activist with the Spanish NGO, told a news conference called to present the group´s latest report.

A total of 2,087 migrants from 18 nations, mainly in West Africa, perished in attempts to get to Spain between January and June, compared to 2,170 during all of 2020.

Over 90 percent of the deaths this year, or 1,922, took place during 57 shipwrecks on the route to the Canary Islands.

Such tragedies are recurring with migrant arrivals on the Atlantic archipelago surging since late 2019 after increased patrols along Europe’s southern coast dramatically reduced crossings to the continent via the Mediterranean.

The shortest route to the islands is more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the Moroccan coast, but it is notoriously dangerous because of the strong currents in the Atlantic.

A group of migrants travel on board a Spanish NGO rescue boat on February 10, 2020. (Photo by PABLO GARCIA / AFP)

Maleno blamed the rise in deaths this year on a greater use of inflatable boats on this route, which are less safe, because migrants were struggling to get their hands on wooden vessels, and on inadequate cooperation between the rescue services of Spain and Morocco.

The cooperation between the two nations has worsened since a crisis in May that resulted in the entry of over 10,000 people from Morocco into Ceuta, a tiny Spanish enclave, she added.

“There is no coordination. Information is not flowing between the two states,” Maleno said.

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In many cases, even after the NGO sounds the alarm about a struggling boat, no one comes to the rescue, she added.”Migrants may spend an entire day drowning,” she said.

The higher death toll is also due to the fact that more family members of migrants are reporting to the NGO when their loved ones go missing at sea, Maleno added.

Spanish interior ministry figures show that between January 1 and June 30, a total of 12,622 migrants arrived in Spain by sea, compared with 7,256 a year earlier. Asked by AFP, a spokesman said the ministry had no tally for how many migrants went missing or died in the attempted crossing.

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POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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