Prison islands”: the migrant crisis in the Canaries

Prison islands”: the migrant crisis in the Canaries

 The Canary Islands are fast becoming the new frontier of Europe’s migration crisis, said María Martín in El País (Madrid). Some 20,000 people have attempted the risky crossing from west Africa to the Spanish archipelago this year; a rise of almost tenfold on 2019’s figures. More than 8,000 made the 60-mile Atlantic journey in November alone. 

Some are fleeing Islamists in Mali or election-related violence in Guinea or the Ivory Coast; many are simply convinced a better life awaits on European soil. But the risks are extreme: at least 900 migrants are thought to have died trying to reach the Canaries from Africa this year. It’s the deadliest of all routes to Europe: “for every 24 people who reach their destination, one drowns along the way”. Yet there’s little sign that the journey’s risks are about to stop people attempting it. Those who do manage to make it are plunged into a chaotic system that simply isn’t fit for purpose, said La Provincia (Las Palmas). 

Tens of thousands of migrants’ files are yet to be processed by authorities, who have resorted to building a tent city with a 7,000-capacity to accommodate them. In the meantime, many migrants set up camp on rat-infested docks. At the port of Arguineguín on Gran Canaria, more than 2,500 people were living in hellish conditions before authorities finally began dismantling the camp last week. Others are being housed, at the government’s expense, in hotels which are largely empty of paying guests thanks to the pandemic, said Martin Dahms in Frankfurter Rundschau. 

But while hoteliers are happy to have an alternative revenue source, many Canarians complain that the influx will tarnish the islands’ image as a tourist destination, and that migrants are treated better than some islanders. German pensioners who live there fear the migrants’ arrival will “spoil their perfect world”. The Canary Islands demand that the burden be shared with the rest of Spain, said Augusto Delkáder Palacios in El Español (Madrid). But Madrid has so far refused to allow migrants to be transferred to the mainland, even though almost half of the places in its reception centres are currently unused; it wants the majority directly repatriated. As for the EU, the crisis simply isn’t on the agenda. The situation is all too reminiscent of the state of affairs on Greek islands such as Lesbos. With Spain unable or unwilling to deal with the issue, and many African countries refusing repatriation, the Canaries now risk becoming “prison islands” for migrants stranded on Europe’s doorstep.