Malian toddler’s death highlights perils of Canaries migrant route

Two-year-old dies despite being revived after being picked up by rescue boat

The death of a two-year-old Malian girl who had been fighting for her life since reaching the Canary islands by boat last week has underlined the dangers of one of the world’s most perilous migrant routes.

The girl died in a hospital on the island of Gran Canaria on Sunday. Spanish maritime rescue personnel had picked her up last Tuesday off Gran Canaria along with other migrants who had been travelling in a boat from the African coast. She was suffering from hypothermia and, on reaching land, medical personnel revived her on Arguineguín wharf after she suffered a heart attack.

“We put her on the floor, we put on the gloves we had in our pockets, cut open her clothes and started to revive her,” Miguel Vela, one of two Red Cross staff who treated her, told El País.

“When I saw her the first thing I asked was ‘Why?’,” he said. “How can life be so unfair?”


The girl had been in intensive care since Tuesday.

“There are no words to describe such pain,” tweeted prime minister Pedro Sánchez as news of her death emerged. “Thank you, from all my heart, to those who fought until the end to save her life. She is a call to all our consciences.”

The girl was originally named as “Nabody” in the Spanish media, although medical staff have since said this was incorrect and that that name corresponded to another child of a similar age who was on the same boat and survived. A total of 29 women, 14 men and nine children were travelling on the vessel, including one woman who was pregnant. The mother of the girl who died was also on the boat and she has been staying at a Red Cross facility on the island.

Mounting deaths

The deceased girl is the 19th officially registered death this year of a migrant who had been travelling from Africa to the Canary islands.

With increased controls on sea routes to Greece, Italy and mainland Spain, the Canary islands have had a resurgence as a migrant destination in recent months. Last year 23,025 undocumented migrants reached the archipelago, compared with 2,700 in 2019, according to the United Nations' refugee agency.

The number of arrivals so far this year is just under 3,000.

The vast majority of those travelling are from north and west Africa, and the journey takes between five and 10 days, depending on the departure point and weather. The UN reported 809 deaths last year of migrants making the journey to the Canary islands and across the western Mediterranean, although given the difficulties in counting those who have died, the true total is believed to be significantly higher.

A relatively small number of migrants who have reached the Canary islands in recent months have been repatriated under bilateral accords, while several thousand others were given accommodation in hotels. Immigration minister José Luis Escrivá has said that 1,800 migrants still in hotels would be moved to shelters on the islands by the end of this month.

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain