Bodies found off Brazil were likely refugees from Mauritania, Mali

Police officers inspect objects removed from the boat in which decomposed bodies were found by fishermen, at the Para Scientific Police headquarters in Braganca. (Photo/Reuters)

Brazilian police investigating the grim discovery of a boat with nine decomposing bodies have said the victims were likely African refugees from Mali and Mauritania.

On Tuesday afternoon, officials said the boat is believed to have been carrying at least 25 people, based on the number of raincoats found inside the vessel.

"Documents and objects found near the bodies indicate that the victims were migrants from the African continent, from the region of Mauritania and Mali," the earlier statement read.

Police added that other nationalities could be among the deceased.

Initially, police put the death toll at 20, saying the refugees were believed to be from Haiti.

On Tuesday, Brazilian authorities said that a preliminary analysis of documents found aboard indicated the boat departed Mauritania after January 17.

Fishermen off Brazil's northern coastal state of Para found the boat adrift Saturday in the Atlantic Ocean.

Jose Roberto Peres, the Federal Police chief in Para state, told a local TV network that the estimated distance from where its passengers may have lost their way is some 4,800 kilometres from Para's coast.

Forensic examination of both the bodies and the vessel is still underway, he said.

The roughly 12-metre white and blue canoe-shaped boat shares the same characteristics of Mauritanian fishing boats known as pirogues, frequently used by West African refugees and refugees fleeing to Spain's Canary Islands, suggesting Brazil was probably not their destination.

The bodies were found in an advanced state of decomposition, authorities had said.

Dangerous route

The Atlantic route from West Africa to the European Union territory is one of the most dangerous in the world.

Boats that miss their destination can be swept away by Atlantic trade winds and currents from east to west, drifting for months.

Refugees aboard often die of dehydration and malnutrition. Others have also been known to jump into the ocean out of desperation.

An Associated Press investigation published last year revealed that in 2021, at least seven boats from northwest Africa had been found in the Caribbean and Brazil, all carrying dead bodies.

This year, a 500 percent spike in migration from the northwest coast of Africa to Spain has alarmed European authorities. Despite a 210 million euro deal signed in February between the European Union and Mauritania, the majority of departures have taken place from the West African nation.

While more than 13,000 refugees have reached the Canaries so far in 2024, according to Spain's Interior Ministry, hundreds of others have been reported missing.

In Mauritania, families have even set up a "national commission" charged with looking for the disappeared migrants. They have been following news of the boat found in Brazil anxiously, according to families who contacted AP.


Source: TRT