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Atlantic Route and Spain: More Death as Crisis, Conflict, and Failed EU Policies Drive Canary Island Crossings, Rescues and Fatalities on Western Med, NGOs Welcome Regularisation of Unaccompanied Children

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Dangerous journeys to the Canary Islands continue to cost lives as migratory movement on the route is driven by economic crisis, conflict and failed EU policies. More deaths, rescues and arrivals are recorded on the Western Mediterranean route. NGOs welcome reform of the Aliens Regulations that will facilitate the granting of residence and work permits to 15,000 unaccompanied children and youth.

Arrivals to the Canary Islands saw an exponential increase in 2020 and additional 120 per cent rise in the first half of 2021: over the past weeks the pace of rescues has remained unrelenting as the Atlantic route remains deadly. Salvamento Marítimo continues the search for 15 people missing after a shipwreck off Cadiz on the night of 14 October. The bodies of nine people were recovered, two men were found alive and a woman was rescued after falling into the sea. One person is confirmed dead and one remains missing after a rescue off 44 people off Gran Canaria on 17 October. Additional rescue operations on 16 and 17 October saved more than 90 people. Meanwhile, Morocco, a major beneficiary of EU border funds, continues to prevent departures and intercept and return people trying to cross to the Canaries. 25 people including at least four children were arrested in three separate operations on 16 October alone and between 16 and 18 October more than 300 people were intercepted and returned by Moroccan authorities.

The large majority of the 23,000 people arriving to the Canary Islands in 2020 originated from just seven African countries. 52 per cent were from Morocco and the occupied Western Sahara, 20 per cent from Senegal, 18 per cent from Mali, and 9 per cent from the Ivory Coast, Guinea, and Gambia combined. According to Juan Carlos Lorenzo, Canaries coordinator for ECRE member CEAR, the key factors driving the movement of these people include economic crisis in Morocco, the deepening conflict in Mali, as well as the effects of climate change on farming in the Sahel region, and the devastation of Senegal's vital fishing sector due to overfishing by foreign trawlers. However, Lorenzo also points to the EU's "fortress Europe" strategy which has relied on the upgrading of border surveillance systems, the building and strengthening of walls and fences, the rapid deportation of migrants without due process, and the externalisation of border management to third countries as driving perilous journeys towards the Canaries.

Arrivals to Spain continue via the Western Mediterranean route particularly to the Balearic Islands where more than 300 arrivals in less than 48 hours were reported on 18 October. 230 people in 18 boats were rescued off the archipelago on 17 October. Numerous rescues of Algerian nationals in several boats off the islands were reported on October 18. In the Alboran Sea, 12 people are missing after their boat overturned as they attempted to reach the Spanish coast from Algeria. Two survivors were rescued by a Norwegian sailboat and Salvamento Marítimo respectively.

On 19 October the Spanish Council of Ministers approved changes to Spanish immigration law to facilitate the regularisation of 8,000 children and 7,000 young people between 18 and 24 years old. Under the new rules, unaccompanied children are entitled to documents after three months in Spain: this represents a reduction of the previous nine months waiting time. The time limit for renewal of residency permits has also been extended. The income requirements to obtain residency and work permits for those who have turned 18 or will become adults within the next five years are also reduced. The reform was welcomed by NGOs that have campaigned for years to reduce the abusive conditions and social exclusion face by young people arriving irregularly in Spain, including ECRE member CEAR.