March 26, 2023

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Searching for dead or missing immigrants on the way to the Canaries

Ten days after they left for the Canaries without news of his wife and his 6-year-old daughter, Ivorian Hamido, who lives in France, took a plane to the Spanish archipelago to find his wife dead while crossing. The daughter was shocked to see him die.

“This man contacted us out of desperation that no one would give him information,” said Helena Maleno, a volunteer from the charity Caminando Fronteras.

For families of dead or missing immigrants on the dangerous migration route that separates the coast of northwestern Africa from the Canaries, access to information about their fate can often become a nightmare.

For two years, the number of people arriving in the Canaries in heavily loaded boats 1,500 kilometers south of the Western Sahara or Senegal has risen due to restrictions in the Mediterranean and the social impact of the epidemic.

Thus the number of victims has also increased.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has estimated 202 deaths in 2019 and 937 have already died this year, which is part of a plan to “make the year 2021” the worst “year” since 1997, according to data collected by the IOM. And by the Spanish NGO APDHA.

UN The data were underestimated with the approval of the agency. According to Cominando Frontero, the number will be 2,087 for the first six months of the year and 2,170 for the whole of 2020.

“This is a terrible year, and immigrants know that going to sea will cost them their lives,” Helena Maleno stressed.

– Boats turned into coffins –

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For many immigrants, these boats will become coffins that will lead to a better life in Europe.

“I know it’s not good to go on this boat, but there was a war in Mali,” says Mamto, who did not want to be named. He was 17 when he left Nautilus, Mauritania, in August 2020 with 58 immigrants.

After three days at sea, the food and water supplies were depleted and many of the migrants on board began to die. Only 11 people survived, including Mamadou. Five bodies were found by rescuers on board, while others were dumped aboard, extending a long list of missing persons.

Wandering in the “Boat Cemetery” of immigrants in the port of Arinaca in Gran Canaria, the young man quietly looks at the old wooden overhangs of “Baderas”, these makeshift boats are called in Spain, drowning in memories. His traumatic experiences of two weeks at sea.

“These people should not die,” insists Theodoro Pontiel, of the Federation of African Associations of Canaries (FAAC), which died in the spring after crossing the grave of two – year – old Malik.

A teddy bear is placed in the grave. On a plate, these words: “My daughter, you will always be in my heart”. According to the IOM, at least 83 children have died this year on the migration route.

“If immigration with a passport and visa can be made normal, people can travel and try to have a better life,” says Theodoro Pondiel, who “condemns traveling with dishonest smugglers on dangerous immigration routes.”

– No more boats, no more deaths –

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“The situation is getting worse and the number of boats and deaths is much higher this year than last,” said Daniel Arencibia, a lawyer who specializes in migration issues, who calls for the creation of a central office to search for missing persons.

“There is no organization responsible for this research,” he says, “so families (…) are responsible for it, but often they do not find it.”

Pastor Jose Antonio Benitez seeks to help these families obtain information about their relatives through his relationships with authorities and voluntary organizations, as well as by contacting hospitals or detention centers.

“Until the body is found, it cannot be confirmed that a person is dead,” he explains.

Last month, Moroccans living in Spain spoke to him after recovering a boat carrying 10 dead passengers.

“They went to the hospitals and spent many days, but no one could answer them because they had to prove their family connection,” says Benitez, condemning the bureaucratic red tape.

Finally, they found their answer in the morgue.

Since mid-June, Cominando Franteras has helped 570 families find their loved ones. The Spanish Red Cross received 359 requests.

But most of the dead at sea will not be found.

“What happens to these families when there is no body? Jose Pablo Barrybar said we need to find other ways to help them get information about their relatives.

This forensic anthropologist is in charge of the Red Cross’ pilot program in the Canaries, the purpose of which is to combine multiple sources by understanding who was on the boats and what happened while crossing.

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“Families have a right to know and we have a duty to guarantee them this right,” he said.