Girl dies during rescue of migrant boat off Canary Islands

MADRID (AP) — A young girl died during a rescue operation to save migrants trying to reach Spain’s Canary Islands in a small boat, Spanish authorities said Wednesday.

Emergency services for the Canary Islands said the girl suffered respiratory failure before the rescue helicopter carrying her and two adults could reach a hospital. Rescuers believed that she was around 5 years old.

The girl was one of 35 migrants on a small craft located by a merchant ship on Tuesday while adrift in the eastern Atlantic Ocean.

José Juan Tejera, an emergency worker, told Spain’s public broadcaster that the group had been traveling for 17 days.

The perilous sea route from western Africa to the Canary Islands has become an important entry point for migrants fleeing poverty and violence in hopes of reaching Europe. Over 5,700 migrants have arrived in the archipelago so far this year, compared with 2,600 in the same period in 2020.

At least 178 migrants have died so far this year trying to reach the Spanish archipelago, according to the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration. In 2020, the organization’s Missing Migrants Project recorded a peak of 749 fatalities on the route, although it received many more reports of shipwrecks that it couldn’t verify.

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