Escape to Europe: thousands of migrants stranded in the Canary Islands


The situation of refugees in the Canary Islands is deteriorating: over the weekend alone, more than 1,000 refugees have reached the Spanish islands. The authorities and the government are increasingly overwhelmed.

By Marc Dugge, ARD Studio Madrid

There should still be almost 2000 people who will have to wait on the dock of the port of Arguineguin in Gran Canaria. Indeed, the reception center reaches its limits with 400 people. From a distance you can see the migrants huddled on the pier wall, policemen and doctors crossing the area. Journalists cannot get close: the police will push them back on the access road.

Judith Sunderland was cleared on the premises. He is the European Deputy Director of the Human Rights Watch organization. 30 to 40 people are housed in 14 narrow tents, in inhumane conditions, he says:

“There are no beds, pillows or mattresses. People sleep on the floor. They have a bathroom for a whole tent. People can only stay in the tent or in a small area in front of it. So they have to be in the stuffy atmosphere sit down. indoors or unprotected under the scorching sun. “

Some refugees wait days on the dock

Here on the dock, migrants are being tested for corona virus. Those who are positive are isolated. The others are taken to collective housing. Because they are scarce, sometimes in empty hotels. But some had been on the dock for several days, Sunderland says.

It is mainly young Moroccans who disembark from ships. But in recent times more and more have also arrived from West Africa: from Senegal, Guinea and the countries in crisis Ivory Coast and Mali. The police don’t make a big difference to them, Sunderland criticizes:

“It appears that the police are systematically giving everyone a deportation warrant – without first investigating the personal situation of the person concerned. The police ask them to sign this document. In most cases there is no translator to help people. He could clearly explain what’s in the note. And not even a lawyer is present. “

Other escape routes are increasingly blocked

These are serious allegations. One thing is certain: the authorities are completely overwhelmed. At least 15,000 migrants arrived in the Canary Islands during the year, more than since 2006.

One reason for this: other routes to Europe are blocked. The route across the Mediterranean from northern Morocco to southern Spain has become increasingly difficult due to intense controls by coast guards. And hardly anyone can cross the border fence to the Spanish exclaves of Ceuta or Melilla. Then the route leads back to the dangerous Atlantic route: for example from Western Sahara or Mauritania to the Canary Islands.

Europe tries to turn Cran Canaria into a “prison island”

Many feel left alone by Spain and Europe. For example Antonio Morales, president of the island of Gran Canaria: “I think Europe is pursuing a clear strategy to transform us into a prison island. As happened in Lesbos or Lampedusa, in Ceuta or Melilla. Think of yourself: People don’t come to me on land, we keep them on the islands. We are turning these areas into deterrent prisons. “

The Spanish government assures that the situation is a priority for them. On Friday, the minister for cooperation with the regions, Carolina Darias, went to the Canary Islands. There he promised to open military grounds to accommodate migrants. The welcome center in the port will close soon. Migrants who are not in a “vulnerable” situation should be constantly sent back to Africa. According to Darias, “the capabilities of our security forces should be increased”, on the other hand the government “relies on diplomacy with countries of origin and transit to improve people’s living conditions through stronger development cooperation. “.

Millions for border protection in countries of origin

Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska wants to travel to Morocco this week to speak with the local government on how to keep the crisis under control.

It has been known in Spain for years that it would not work without the help of the countries of origin. And also that this aid has its price: last year Spain transferred 26 million euros so that Morocco can better equip its border guards, for example with off-road vehicles. Part of the total 140 million that the European Commission had promised Morocco for border security.


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