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At least 1,000 migrants reached the Canaries since the beginning of 2020, a figure 15 times higher than last year.
Spain’s maritime rescue service (Salvamento Maritimo) said Wednesday it was searching for 53 people in two boats missed for at least two days between the port of Dakhla on the Western Sahara coast and the Spanish Canary Islands.
Authorities had begun Monday searching for five missing boats after several alerts. Following rescue operations by both Morocco and Spain, Salvamento Maritimo announced the search had been narrowed down to two boats carrying respectively 26 and 27 people.
A plane was deployed that same day to look for the two boats in the huge area of waters, but adverse weather has complicated the operation.
Two NGOs, AlarmPhone and Walking Borders, said Tuesday that 14 migrants, two of them children, had died after their boat sank while en route to the Spanish Islands.
Also on Tuesday, Salvamento Maritimo rescued another boat carrying 25 migrants, which was just south of Gran Canaria.
In the meantime, Spain has continued to repatriate migrants from the Canaries. A flight with 51 people left off Monday for Mauritania. It was the third such flight since the start of 2020, according to the Spanish ombudsman.
These repatriation flights are supervised by the European Union's border security agency, Frontex.
People sent to Mauritania Monday did not come from that country. Thirty-six were from Mali, 13 from Senegal, one from Gabon and one from the Ivory Coast.
A bilateral agreement between Spain and Mauritania, states that the latter must receive any sent back migrants who went through its territory to reach Spain, regardless of their nationality.
According to government figures, more than 1,000 migrants reached the Canaries since the beginning of 2020. The number, 15 times higher than last year, raised fears of a renewal of migrant traffic on a route taken by tens of thousands 10 years ago.
Last week, 87 migrants including one born at sea, were rescued south of Gran Canaria. Almost half of them were women and children.
As Morocco has launched a crackdown on undocumented migration, an increasing number of people are now trying to reach Spain from Mauritania, whose coastline is located 1,000 kilometers to the south.