At least 89 Europe-bound migrants die after boat capsizes off Mauritania

At least 89 Europe-bound migrants died and dozens went missing after their boat capsized off the coast of Mauritania, according to a state news agency.

They were sailing on a large traditional fishing boat when it capsized in the Atlantic Ocean on Monday, the news agency quoted the Mauritanian coast guard as saying.

The boat sank about 4km from the country’s southwest city of Ndiago.

It had set sail from near the Senegalese-Gambia border towards Europe with 170 people on board, the survivors were quoted as saying.

The bodies of 89 people were brought to the coast on Monday as authorities searched for the missing passengers, the report said. A five-year-old girl was among the nine people rescued by the coast guard.

Thousands of migrants from Africa take the deadly Atlantic route to reach Europe in search of job opportunities. It is not uncommon for entire boats to vanish in the Atlantic, with a few sometimes reappearing on the other side of the ocean with no survivors.

Spain’s Canary Islands have become a stepping stone for migrants and refugees trying to reach continental Europe from West Africa.

In January alone, 7,270 migrants landed on the archipelago, about as many as in the first six months of 2023.

This year, migrant departures from Mauritania, which had appeared to be under control for most of last year, have surged again.

In spite of the presence of both Spanish and Mauritanian patrols off the coast, the majority of this year’s migrant arrivals to the Canaries have departed from the impoverished nation.

In February, The European Union announced €210m (£177.9m) to help Mauritania crack down on people smugglers and deter migrant boats from taking off. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced the extra funding for migration as well as for humanitarian aid and job creation during a meeting with Mauritanian president Mohamed Ould Ghazouani and Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez.

A UN-backed report has revealed that ever more migrants and refugees are embarking on dangerous journeys across Africa towards the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, risking kidnapping and even organ theft.

The routes crisscrossing the Sahara desert northwards from west and east Africa are thought to be twice as deadly as the central Mediterranean route, where more than 800 people are thought to have drowned this year, the report said.

The report, co-written by the International Organization for Migration, said more people are making the perilous journeys than four years ago, citing UN data from Tunisia that showed a more than 200 per cent increase in arrivals in 2023 versus 2020.