Over 4,400 migrants died while trying to reach Spain in 2021, making it the deadliest year on record, according to a report released on Monday.
The total number of victims – 4,404 – is up 103% from 2020, Spanish NGO Caminando Fronteras said in its report, as more people resorted to increasingly dangerous means of reaching Europe and authorities failed to rescue them on time.
Most of the victims were male, but 628 women and 205 children also lost their lives.
The highest number of deaths, by far, was on the sea journey from Western Africa to the Canary Islands. The organization identified 124 shipwrecks and 4,016 fatalities, making it one of the most perilous migratory routes in the world.
“The deterrence and contention policies imposed by Europe and Morocco on Western Mediterranean routes have steadily pushed migration flows towards the Atlantic, making the Canary Islands the main destination for people on the move,” read the report.
In 2021, the organization found small wooden ships taking off from as far south as the Gambia, which is around 1,700 kilometers (1,050 miles) away from the Canary Islands.
During most of the tragedies on this route, the ships disappeared with no trace, but some have been found in the Caribbean with human remains.
The top source for migrants on this route was Mali, which is engulfed in armed conflict and also seeing climate change increasingly pushing families to the brink.
Overall, citizens of 21 countries died trying to reach Spain last year, the report said.
Another development the NGO noticed was the rise of inflatable plastic dinghies departing from the coast of Morocco.
In the first half of 2021, 33% of all these attempts ended in tragedy.
Another peak in deaths occurred last spring amid a diplomatic crisis between Spain and Morocco, when Moroccan authorities allowed thousands of people to breach the border of the Spanish enclave of Ceuta.
According to the organization, 95% of the victims on migrant routes to Spain die at sea without their bodies being recovered.
Despite this being the deadliest year yet, the number of irregular migrants reaching Spain by land or sea was 39,157, a decrease of 1.2% from 2020, according to Spain’s Interior Ministry.
Besides unsafe boats and longer voyages, other causes for the higher death toll include migrants departing in already poor health after long waits in harsh conditions, a lack of sailing experience by those traveling, lack of coordination between countries for rescue missions, cuts in resources for rescues, unnecessary delays in rescue times, and other vessels refusing to help out of fear of being prosecuted, Caminando Fronteras said in the report.
The Spanish NGO collects data from primary sources, keeps databases and works alongside the Observatory of Human Rights.