So far, 19,000 boat refugees from Africa have landed on the Spanish islands in 2020. Local politicians are calling for a long-term solution to the situation.
For weeks, citizens, human rights organizations and regional politicians have been protesting against the inhumane conditions in the refugee reception center on the pier in Arguineguin in the south of Gran Canaria. On Sunday evening the camp known as the “Camp of Shame” was now disbanded. The last 27 refugees were relocated to temporary accommodation in a military facility on the Canary Island.
With the onslaught of refugees on the Canary Islands in summer, the Red Cross set up the initial reception center in mid-August. Actually, the suddenly arriving thousands of African boat refugees should be treated here provisionally and tested for Covid-19. But the flow of refugees did not stop. Up to 300 refugees a day, mainly from Morocco, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal, landed on the Spanish holiday island off the coast of West Africa.
2600 instead of 500 people
In the camp on the pier in Arguineguin, which was designed for a maximum of 500 people, up to 2,600 people had to be accommodated in places. For days, people only received sandwiches and water and had to sleep on the floor in the open air, confirmed the Red Cross Emergency Operations Manager, Jose Antonio Rodriguez.
“The liquidation of the camp is good news. Human rights have been violated here. Nevertheless, the problem is not solved. To accommodate the refugees in nearby hotels or temporary tented camps in military facilities can only be a temporary solution,” said Onalia Bueno, Mayor of Arguineguin. Angel Victor Torres, Regional President of the Canary Islands, also welcomed the dissolution of the camp, but on Monday again urged Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s central government not to leave the Canaries alone with the refugee problem and to bring a large number of migrants to the mainland.
“A shame for Spain and Europe”
The regional government and the mayor of Arguineguin have been protesting against the conditions in the refugee reception center for weeks. NGOs such as Human Rigths Watch, Amnesty International and the Spanish refugee organization Cear also regularly called for the camp to be closed immediately. The high migratory pressure has already led to social tension in the village. There were several protest rallies. “The sanitary and hygienic conditions as well as the accommodation of the people were a disgrace for Spain and Europe,” said Cear spokesman Jose Maria Santana.
A total of five Spanish ministers and Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez visited Gran Canaria after the camp became the focus of national media coverage in the press. They promised a remedy, although nothing happened for weeks after that. Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska visited his counterpart Abdelouafi Laftit in Rabat in order to persuade the Moroccan government to quickly return the mostly Moroccan boat refugees. At the same time, Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez-Laya campaigned for the same demands in Senegal. Spain has concluded refugee return agreements with various West African countries. However, these were suspended due to the border closings in the course of the corona pandemic and, among other things, provoked the large influx of refugees in the Canary Islands.
Migrants are not brought to the mainland
Nevertheless, the Spanish central government continues to refuse to bring the migrants to mainland Spain because it fears that it will attract more boat refugees. “They want to turn the Canary Islands into a second Lesbos, into prison islands so that the refugees stay away,” said Antonio Morales, Gran Canaria’s head of government.
Since the Mediterranean routes are currently well monitored and the corona pandemic is worsening poverty in many West African countries, the flow of refugees to the Canary Islands off the coast of West Africa, which belongs to Spain, does not stop. 19,000 people reached the Canary Islands this year, 1000 percent more than in the previous year. The refugee route across the Atlantic is one of the most dangerous to Europe. The United Nations Refugee Agency, Acnur, estimates that at least 600 refugees have died this year trying to reach the Canary Islands and thus Europe. Refugee organizations assume there are over 3,000. Nobody knows the real numbers. According to the International Organization for Migration, an estimated one in 16 refugees dies on the Atlantic route.
Most boat refugees are unaware of the dangers. And so the flow of refugees is unlikely to stop in the coming months, fears the island government. “We estimate that there are currently around 100,000 people ready to leave on the West African coast waiting for an opportunity to cross over to us,” said Froilán Rodríguez, immigration officer of the Canarian government, according to the Spanish press agency Europapress.