Medics say 11 migrants die as boat capsizes off Morocco

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Eleven migrants trying to reach Europe died after their boat capsized off northern Morocco, medical sources said Wednesday, as one of another group of 15 migrants rescued off the coast of southern Spain also perished.

Of the 34 people travelling in the boat that overturned in Moroccan waters around midday on Tuesday, two children, three women and six men died, and another 12 were hospitalized, a doctor in the coastal Moroccan town of Hoceima told AFP.

The passengers were picked up by the Moroccan navy.

All but one of the victims drowned the other dying while being transported to Hoceima hospital, according to Faisal Oussard, local representative for the Moroccan Association of Human Rights.

They were all sub-Saharan migrants but their nationalities were not known.

Oussard said the boat capsized nine kilometers (six miles) off Hoceima, having set off from Nador, 130 kilometers to the east, either headed for the north African Spanish enclave of Melilla or mainland Spain.

The sea was calm when the accident took place but the rigid inflatable boat they were travelling in was overcrowded, he added.

Thousands of illegal migrants from Africa try to cross the Straits of Gibraltar -- just 14 kilometers wide at its narrowest -- each year on overcrowded boats.

Spain’s coastguard said Wednesday that it had sent a lifeboat to rescue 15 migrants attempting the journey in two separate vessels, who were taken to the southern town of Tarifa.

Emergency services evacuated one of the rescued migrants, who was in a critical condition, by helicopter to Tarifa, but he died shortly afterwards.

The condition of those hospitalized in Hoceima, on the Moroccan side, and the fate of the 11 people who escaped without injury were not known.

Moroccan authorities frequently expel sub-Saharan migrants across the Algerian border, which is their main point of entry.

Medical aid group Doctors Without Borders said last month that it was closing its projects in Morocco in protest at the plight of African migrants allegedly abused by Spanish and Moroccan police while trying to reach Europe.

The tiny Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, perched on the North Africa coast and both claimed by Morocco, are key launch points for illegal migration to Europe.

Melilla received 2,224 illegal immigrants last year, 262 more than in 2011, according to Spain’s Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz.

He blamed instability in Africa’s Sahel region, especially in Mali, for the rise.

Local associations estimate that Morocco was hosting between 20,000 and 25,000 migrants from sub-Saharan countries in 2012 hoping to reach Europe through Spain.

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