Morocco’s navy has rescued more than 800 would-be migrants and refugees and recovered one body since early last week, state media reported, as attempts to reach Spain increase.
Morocco’s state news agency MAP, citing a military source, said on Tuesday the kingdom’s navy rescued 845 migrants and refugees, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, between July 10 and Monday, around half of them in territorial waters off the country’s south.
During the operations, rescuers recovered one body, the source said.
Morocco in northwest Africa is a transit country for many asylum-seekers trying to get to Europe via Spain’s mainland or its Canary Islands in the Atlantic.
Spain’s Canary Islands are only about 150 kilometres off southern Morocco.
The Spanish islands have long been a draw for refugees and migrants seeking a better life in Europe, with many boats setting off from the coastline of Morocco, disputed Western Sahara, Mauritania and Senegal.
But the Atlantic route to the Canaries is particularly dangerous due to the strong currents, with refugees and migrants travelling in overloaded wooden boats known as pirogues that are often unseaworthy and without enough drinking water.
Shipwreck off Western Sahara
AlarmPhone, which runs a hotline for migrants in distress at sea, on Tuesday tweeted that “24 people died in a shipwreck” off the disputed Western Sahara territory.
The boat, which capsized two days ago, carried 61 people, 37 of whom survived, the group said.
Moroccan authorities did not confirm this information.
Spain’s coastguard was last week searching for three boats carrying about 300 migrants and refugees reported lost by Caminando Fronteras, a Spanish NGO that helps migrant vessels in distress.
Atlantic crossings began surging in late 2019 after increased patrols along Europe’s southern coast dramatically reduced Mediterranean crossings.
In the first six months of 2023, 7,213 refugees reached the Canary Islands by boat, Spanish Interior Ministry figures show.
Moroccan authorities say they disrupted 26,000 irregular migration attempts in the first five months of this year.
For all of last year, the figure was around 71,000, the Interior Ministry said.