DAKAR (Reuters) – A boat carrying up to 180 migrants was intercepted by the Mauritanian coast guard on Friday, the U.N. migration agency said, less than two days after 62 migrants drowned when their vessel sank in the same waters en route from Gambia.
The boat is understood to have been carrying between 150 and 180 people, who are in the process of being identified by the local authorities, said Laura Lungarotti, chief of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Mauritania.
The incidents are indicative of a resurgence in the number of people willing to risk the perilous sea passage from West Africa to Spain’s Canary Islands, which was a major route for those seeking jobs and a better life in Europe until Spain stepped up patrols in the mid-2000s.
“It is part of this trend of an increasing number of people passing through this route because the central Mediterranean route has been stopped due to the Libya situation,” Lungarotti told Reuters by phone.
The Italian government has focussed on stopping migration to its shores from Libya and the Libyan coastguard has increased interceptions. With migrants detained in slave-like conditions in Libya, the numbers arriving in Italy have dropped off dramatically from a peak of 181,000 in 2016.
But the will of migrants to leave remains strong. On Wednesday, at least 62 people drowned off the Mauritanian coast and around 80 had to swim for shore after the boat carrying them northwards from Gambia sank – one of the deadliest incidents along this route in recent years.
(Reporting by Alessandra Prentice, Kissima Diagana and Pap Saine; Editing by Mark Heinrich)