Migrants trying to reach Europe pushed to deadly Atlantic

FUERTEVENTURA, Spain (AP) — The only person who wasn’t crying on the boat was 2-year-old Noura. Noura’s mother, Hawa Diabaté, was fleeing her native Ivory Coast to what she believed was continental Europe. Unlike the 60 adults on board, only Noura was oblivious to the risks of crossing the […]

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Noura’s mother, Hawa Diabaté, was fleeing her native Ivory Coast to what she believed was continental Europe. Unlike the 60 adults on board, only Noura was oblivious to the risks of crossing the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean in an overcrowded rubber dinghy.

As the waves quickly got bigger and people more nervous, Noura told her mother, “Be quiet, mama! Boza, mama! Boza!”, Diabaté recalled. The expression is used by sub-Saharan migrants to celebrate a successful crossing.

After several hours in the ocean, it was finally “Boza.” Spain’s Maritime Rescue Service brought them to safety on one of the Canary Islands.

Migrants and asylum-seekers are increasingly crossing a treacherous part of the Atlantic Ocean to reach the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago near West Africa, in what has become one of the most dangerous routes to European territory. Noura and her mother are among about 4,000 people to have survived the perilous journey this year.

But many never make it. More than 250 people are known to have died or gone missing so far this year according to the International Organization for Migration. That’s already more than the number of people who perished trying to cross the Western Mediterranean in all of last year. In the week that The Associated Press spent in the Canary Islands to report this story, at least 20 bodies were recovered.

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This story was funded in part by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

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The increase in traffic to the Canaries comes after the European Union funded Morocco in 2019 to stop migrants from reaching southern Spain via the Mediterranean Sea. While arrivals to mainland Spain decreased by 50% compared to the same period last year, landings in the Canary Islands have increased by 550%. In August alone there were more than 850 arrivals by sea to the Canaries, according to an AP tally of numbers released by Spain’s Interior Ministry and reports by local media and NGOs.

Arrivals this year are still low compared to the 30,000 migrants who reached the islands in 2006. But they are at their highest in over a decade since Spain stemmed the flow of sea arrivals to just a few hundred a year through deals with West African countries.