UN agencies mourn death of 27 migrants off West African coast


At least 27 people died when a boat carrying migrants capsized off the West African coast between Mauritania and Western Sahara, United Nations agencies said Friday.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, expressed deep sadness over the tragic deaths.

Only one survivor was found during a rescue operation by Mauritania’s coastguard and was brought to Nouadhibouon Thursday, the UN agencies for migration and refugees said.

“Despite COVID-19 mobility restrictions, migrants are still compelled to undertake risky journeys,” says IOM Mauritania Chief of Mission Laura Lungarotti.

“While we continue to provide humanitarian assistance hand in hand with the Government of Mauritania and civil society, the need for predictable rescue and assistance procedures remains. This is all the more important whilst public health measures are still in place.”

“These deaths are preventable, and they are avoidable,” says Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean.

“We must take action to target the smugglers and traffickers who offer false promises to migrants and refugees of safe passage to Europe.

At the same time, we need to offer effective protection and services to people in countries of asylum and transit to strengthen their socio-economic inclusion and integration with host communities so they don’t feel the desperation that drives them to risk their lives on these desperate journeys.”

The boat carrying the migrants is understood to have left Dakhla, Western Sahara, some days ago and was heading for the Canary Islands before having engine trouble. Those on board were left stranded at sea and began suffering from extreme dehydration. The passengers were mostly from sub-Saharan Africa and included Guineans.

IOM and UNHCR call on states everywhere to dismantle those smuggling and trafficking networks that prey on migrants and refugees looking to travel to Europe.

Authorities, through increased cooperation to identify, prosecute and sanction those responsible would check this scourge, which also would go hand in hand with offering increased safe and legal pathways to asylum and migration. Both would provide credible alternatives to dangerous sea crossings. (Source: IOM)