GRAN CANARIA, Spain (Reuters) - The number of undocumented migrants arriving in Spain's Canary Islands was more than eight times higher in 2020 than in the previous year, the Spanish Interior Ministry said on Monday.
With north and sub-Saharan Africans desperate losing income from tourism and other industries because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 23,023 migrants arrived in the archipelago last year, up from 2,687 in 2019, the ministry said.
Hundreds of people died last year making the perilous crossing to the islands in the Atlantic Ocean, often in overcrowded boats with unreliable engines, the International Organization for Migration said.
Migrant arrivals have continued since the start of 2021.
Forty-four Northern African migrants, including one woman, were rescued close to Gran Canaria, the island that received the largest influx of arrivals last year, a Coast Guard spokeswoman said.
All seemed in good health though one had a minor foot injury and another had hand injuries.
Seventy-one migrants were rescued on Sunday close to the island of Fuerteventura, the spokeswoman said.
Migrants tend to see the Canary Islands as a staging post on the way to mainland Europe although they are more than 1,000 km (620 miles) from continental Spain.
Overall, the number of migrants intercepted across Spain in 2020 rose by 29% to 41,861, as fewer people sailed to continental Spain and the Balearic Islands or crossed the land border between Morocco and the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.
(Reporting by Inti Landauro, Borja Suarez and Joan Faus, Editing by Ingrid Melander, Barbara Lewis and Timothy Heritage)