Morocco’s navy on Tuesday intercepted more than 50 sub-Saharan African migrants off the kingdom’s southwestern coast, state media said, the latest in a surge of attempted crossings to Spain from North Africa.
The naval unit was on patrol off the coast of Tantan when it assisted “56 would-be irregular migrants of sub-Saharan African origin aboard a makeshift boat,” state news agency MAP quoted a military source as saying.
Spain’s Canary Islands are only about 150 kilometres (93 miles) off southern Morocco, west of Tantan.
The Spanish islands have long been a draw for migrants seeking a better life in Europe, with many boats setting off from the coastline of Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania and Senegal.
The interception on Tuesday came a day after a military source told MAP that the Moroccan navy recovered the bodies of five migrants and rescued 189 others after their boat capsized further south, off the coast of the disputed Western Sahara.
Non-governmental organisations regularly report deaths in Moroccan and Spanish territorial waters.
At least 13 Senegalese migrants died in mid-July when their boat sank off the Moroccan coast.
On July 25, the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) said five Moroccan migrants had died in a shipwreck off Western Sahara.
According to figures released by Spanish NGO Caminando Fronteras, which helps migrant boats in distress, 778 people died while trying to reach the Canary Islands in the first half of 2023.
Figures from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) give a lower figure of 126 dead or missing over the same period.
Moroccan authorities said they foiled 26,000 irregular migration attempts in the first five months of the year.
Atlantic crossings began surging in late 2019 after increased patrols along Europe’s southern coast dramatically reduced Mediterranean crossings.
In the first six months of 2023, 7,213 migrants reached the Canary Islands by boat, Spanish interior ministry figures show.