MADRID – At least 29 Africans, including seven children, died last week while trying to reach Spain's Canary Islands on a smuggling boat, according to information released Monday from a U.N. migration agency and a Spanish migrant charity in touch with victims' relatives.
Spanish maritime services on Friday rescued 27 migrants and recovered 4 bodies in the boat that was spotted by a fishing vessel 500 kilometers (300 miles) south of El Hierro, an island in the Canary archipelago off northwest Africa.
But at least 24 more people were on the boat when it left Aug. 15 from Dakhla, a port city in the disputed Western Sahara, said Helena Maleno, founder of the Walking Borders non-profit group.
Maleno's organization came up with the figure after conducting extensive interviews with relatives looking for their loved ones. She said only one of the eight children traveling on the boat survived but the girl lost her mother during the trip.
“We are seeing more and more women on these routes, heading to sea with migrants themselves who have little or no experience with navigation and are given the task to be in charge of the boats by the trafficking networks,” Maleno told The Associated Press.
She said many of the women are fleeing conflict, trafficking, rape, genital mutilation and other abuses but often face even more violence during their efforts to reach Europe.
“Many become pregnant and they are trying to cross with their very young children," said Maleno.
According to the testimony of survivors, the remains of those who died during the journey were thrown overboard by fellow travelers, the U.N.'s International Organization for Migration, or IOM, said.
The agency said it had been informed by Canary Islands authorities of 29 total casualties, including a woman from Ivory Coast who was rescued but died upon arrival at the port of Arguineguin.
The voyage, often on small, frail boats, from Africa to the Canary Islands is one of the deadliest migration routes for those attempting to reach Europe. The IOM has recorded 529 deaths this year on that route but said the number is "an undercount of the true number of deaths and disappearances on this route.”
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