2020’s deadliest shipwreck so far, sees 140 migrants perish off Senegalese coast

This latest tragedy follows four shipwrecks recorded in the Central Mediterranean last week and another in the English Channel, prompting the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to call for “unity” between governments, partners and the international community to “dismantle trafficking and smuggling networks that take advantage of desperate youth”.

“It is also important that we advocate for enhanced legal channels to undermine the traffickers’ business model and prevent loss of life”, said Bakary Doumbia, IOM Senegal’s Chief of Mission.

Capsized lives and hopes
Local eyewitnesses told the agency that the vessel set sail on Saturday for Spain’s Canary Islands from the coastal town of Mbour in western Senegal. A few hours into the journey, the boat caught fire and capsized off the northwest coast of Senegal, near Saint-Louis.

The Government of Senegal and IOM have arranged a mission to Saint-Louis to assess needs and provide immediate psychosocial assistance to survivors.

A hazardous spike

According to news reports, those traveling by sea from Senegal have been refused European visas, so risk a perilous voyage with the hopes of earning enough money to support their families back home.

In recent weeks, IOM said that the number of departures from West Africa to Spain’s Canary Islands has significantly increased.

The UN agency has been monitoring coastal departures since early September and said that during that month alone, 14 boats carrying 663 migrants left Senegal for the Canary Islands – 26 per cent of which reported having run into trouble of been shipwrecked.

IOM estimates that there have been roughly 11,000 arrivals to the Canary Islands this year compared to 2,557 during the same period last year. And although a significant jump, it is still far below the 2006 peak when more than 32,000 people arrived seeking entry.

The deadly shipwreck brings the known number of deaths along this route in 2020 to at least 414, according to IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, which recorded 210 fatalities there in all of 2019.