in a photo shared by the Spanish coastguard on Twitter, the three men sit on the sliver of the ship’s rudder jutting out of the water, their backs hunched against the vessel’s hull. A coast guard rescue boat picked up the men and took them to the port of Las Palmas to be treated by health services, the coast guard tweeted.
The survivors were from Nigeria, the Spanish government delegation in the Canary Islands told the Associated Press. One of them was still hospitalized on Tuesday.
“The odyssey of survival is far beyond fiction,” Txema Santana, migration adviser to the Canary Islands authorities, wrote on Twitter. “It is not the first and it will not be the last. Clandestines are not always so lucky.”
The rescue comes amid tensions within the European Union over migration policy, as countries in southern Europe – France and Italy in particular – argue over who should receive the growing number of migrants arriving by sea.
France accepts migrant rescue ship rejected by Italy amid tensions
More than 165,000 irregular migrants, many of them seeking asylum, have arrived in Europe this year, the highest number since 2017, when 187,499 were registered, according to the International Organization for Migration.
The journey of the three stowaways is an outlier in recent migration patterns to Europe. The bloc has seen an increase in arrivals over the past month, said Charlotte Slente, secretary general of the Danish Council for Refugees, an aid agency that works in dozens of countries. But recently, most asylum seekers arrive by land, crossing the Balkans and heading west across Europe.
Almost 30,000 migrants arrived in Spain in 2022, a drop compared to recent years, according to data from UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency. More than 14,000 of them landed on the shores of the Canary Islands, often in flimsy and crowded boats, many inflatable and unsuitable for ocean travel. The crossing is dangerous – 1,153 people died or went missing along the route to the Canary Islands last year, UNHCR said.
“Overall, we have seen migrants and refugees continue to resort to dangerous sea and land journeys, reflecting the desperation and vulnerabilities they may face, as well as the lack of sufficient alternative and safe routes,” said Shabia Mantoo, UNHCR Spokesperson. . in an email on Tuesday. “This includes storage in airless vessels or containers and going out to sea in leaky boats, among others.”
It is rare, though not unheard of, for asylum seekers to take refuge on commercial ships. The Spanish coastguard has responded to six similar cases over the past two years, Sofía Hernández, head of the rescue service’s coordination center in Las Palmas, told the AP. “It’s very dangerous,” she said of the trip aboard the ship’s helm. A 14-year-old, accompanied by older migrants, made the journey from Nigeria on top of a rudder in 2020, Spanish newspaper El Pais reported.
The coronavirus pandemic and consequent border closures have driven asylum seekers and migrants to take more dangerous routes from Africa to Europe, many with the help of smugglers, according to UNHCR.
“There have been a lot of efforts in recent years to really control the borders, which has made access for people in need of protection and asylum remarkably difficult,” Slente said, adding that her organization had seen a growing number of cases where European borders authorities push asylum seekers back to their countries of origin.
Nearly 2,000 people have lost their lives this year on sea routes from the Mediterranean and northwest Africa as they tried to reach Europe, Mantoo said.
“What is needed is more state-led and better-coordinated search and rescue efforts, predictable landings in safe locations, and rapid access to screening and asylum procedures to identify those who may be in need of international protection and return – safely and with dignity. . – those who don’t,” said Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, in a statement ahead of a meeting of EU interior ministers last week.
Ministers met in Brussels to discuss an action plan for the central Mediterranean, another important migration route to Europe. Part of that plan involves implementing the voluntary “Declaration of Solidarity” agreed in June in relation to migrants arriving by sea in southern member states, distributing them elsewhere in Europe.
“We cannot keep working by tackling one crisis at a time or one ship at a time,” said Margaritis Schinas, the European Commission vice-president in charge of coordinating the bloc’s Migration and Asylum Pact, according to Germany’s DW News.