Spain, Morocco face criticism for delayed response to migrant sea rescues


Human rights activists have voiced strong criticism against the governments of Spain and Morocco for their slow response in aiding migrants attempting to reach Spain by boat, resulting in the deaths of at least two people this week.

Spanish advocacy group Caminando Fronteras, which handles distress calls from migrants or their families regarding boats in peril, reported that 37 individuals are missing following the sinking of their vessel on Wednesday.

Spanish rescue services confirmed that two individuals, a man and a child, lost their lives, while 24 people were rescued in the incident that occurred approximately 160 kilometers (100 miles) off the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean.

Neither the Spanish rescue team nor Moroccan authorities, who took charge of the survivors, have verified the presence of any additional passengers.

Campaigners have increasingly criticized both countries for their long-standing shortcomings in responding to distressed migrants.

Helena Maleno from Caminando Fronteras revealed that it took 17 hours after the distress call for a Spanish rescue aircraft and a Moroccan navy vessel to arrive. She explained to Spanish broadcaster Canal Sur that the Spanish plane located the inflatable raft at around 8 pm on Tuesday evening.

While the decision was made for Morocco to intervene, hours passed before they contacted the authorities, and Morocco took even longer to act, leaving individuals on the inflatable raft panicked, hungry, and exhausted, stated Maleno.

Radio Cadena Ser aired a recording of the pilot who first sighted the vessel, estimating that there were “around 50 people on board.” The Spanish rescue ship was reportedly one hour away from the distressed vessel at that point.

Spain’s rescue service released a statement denying responsibility for the migrant deaths, as their vessel had to return to port after rescuing 63 individuals from another boat, some of whom required medical attention.

Asserting compliance with international protocols, they stated that the responsibility for the inflatable raft fell within the joint jurisdiction of Morocco and Spain.

Despite several requests for comment, Moroccan authorities did not respond to AFP.

When questioned by a journalist, Spanish government spokeswoman Isabel Rodriguez admitted to lacking detailed information about the incident.

Spain’s Defensor del Pueblo, a parliamentary commission elected to safeguard citizens’ fundamental rights, announced on Friday that an investigation had been initiated into the matter.

Spain serves as a significant entry point for migrants seeking better opportunities in Europe.

The number of boats heading towards the Canaries from Northwestern Africa, often departing from the disputed territory of Western Sahara, has risen in recent days due to favorable weather conditions.

On Thursday evening, Spain reported rescuing at least 350 migrants from five vessels within a 24-hour period.

Save the Children drew attention to the similarities with the tragedy that occurred a week prior, in which at least 78 migrants drowned in the Ionian Sea off Greece. Officials fear that the final death toll could reach hundreds.

The organization stated, “How many more children will need to die on deadly sea routes before the EU finally takes action?”

Since maritime patrols were intensified in the Mediterranean off the coast of Spain, more migrants have attempted the western route along the African coast towards the Canary Islands.

However, due to treacherous currents and the precarious condition of the vessels, many have perished during the journey.

According to a report published by Caminando Fronteras at the end of 2022, an estimated 11,200 individuals have died or gone missing since 2018 while attempting to reach Spain, averaging six fatalities per day.

Agence France-Presse

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