The only survivor among passengers on a boat adrift off the West African coast is transported to an ambulance in Nouadhibou, Mauritania. UNHCR photo by Komi Mensah.

Countries Urged to Act on Human Smuggling After 27 Migrants Die at Sea

Two United Nations agencies are calling for greater action to dismantle human smuggling and trafficking networks following the deaths of 27 migrants off the coast of Mauritania, northwest Africa.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, on August 7 expressed deep sadness over the incident, which they said was avoidable.

The migrants, who were mostly from sub-Saharan Africa and included Guineans, were on a boat that had left Dakhla, Western Sahara, several days ago.

The vessel was heading for the Canary Islands when it began having engine trouble. The passengers were left stranded at sea and began suffering from extreme dehydration.

A lone survivor was brought to the Mauritanian city of Nouadhibou after being rescued by the coastguard on August 6 and is receiving medical and psychological support.

“Despite COVID 19 mobility restrictions, migrants are still compelled to undertake risky journeys”, said Laura Lungarotti, IOM Mauritania Chief of Mission. “While we continue to provide humanitarian assistance hand in hand with the government of Mauritania and civil society, the need for predictable rescue and assistance procedures remains. This is all the more important whilst public health measures are still in place”.

IOM and UNHCR urged governments to step up efforts to dismantle smuggling networks while also increasing safe and legal pathways to asylum and migration.

“These deaths are preventable, and they are avoidable,” said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean. “We must take action to target the smugglers and traffickers who offer false promises to migrants and refugees of safe passage to Europe.”

He added that, “at the same time, we need to offer effective protection and services to people in countries of asylum and transit to strengthen their socio-economic inclusion and integration with host communities, so they don’t feel the desperation that drives them to risk their lives on these desperate journeys.”

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