Canary Islands’ migrant pressure continues, living conditions’ disgraceful ‘

In 2020, 23,000 unparalleled migrants made the seaborne journey from northwestern Africa to the Canary Islands.

In recent months, however, the Spanish archipelago has become a dead end, with migrants trapped in overcrowded centers where insecurity and lack of support have generated tensions. In mid-April, several migrants contacted our editorial office to testify.

In response to the large numbers of immigrants not seen since 2006, the Spanish government introduced its “Canary Plan” in November 2020 with the aim of creating 7,000 immigrant homes on the islands of Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Tenerife.

However, according to a report by Amnesty International Spain, published on April 23, 2021, living conditions in the archipelago are disturbing and even “shameful” in some centers.

Ahmed (not his real name) is a Guinean asylum seeker who arrived in the Canary Islands on October 16, 2020. He spent several months in a hotel before being transferred to the El Matorral camp on the island of Fuerteventura in February. The center, which seats up to 648 people, was opened as part of the “Canary Plan” by the Red Cross.

We are crammed into our tents. At night it is cold. To eat, we have to drive for almost an hour to get a small portion of food. We have tried to get information by asking questions such as ‘When are we going to get out of here?’ and ‘Why have some people already left?’. I have applied for asylum, but I have no news of my case. There have already been conflicts between sub-Saharan Africa and Moroccans over food queues. On March 15, about 30 of us organized a march to ask for help and leave the camp.

On social networks, several organizations and groups, under the umbrella of the Fuerteventura Migrant Aid Network, have documented the situation in this camp. Javier, who is a member of this network, explained the problems that migrants face:

There is a lack of health and psychological care and a lack of legal help. Sometimes only one person is responsible for the legal follow-up of 500 people in the Matorral camp.

Meanwhile, the Red Cross has claimed in local media that it has set up “Spanish courses, legal aid and psychological help”. The organization has insisted that conditions in the El Matorral camp are dignified “if only for a limited stay”.

‘La Nave del Queso’: a criticized quarantine center

On March 31, a Covid-19 case was discovered in the Matorral camp. To get quarantine, 100 people were transferred to another center called La Nave del Queso in Puerto del Rosario, the capital of the island of Fuerteventura.

In the “Nave del Queso”, on the island of Fuerteventura in the Canaries, in April 2020. © DR

Ahmed was part of this group of people who were transferred. In this shed, several spaces have been shared with sheets and fences. The migrants sleep on bunk beds, sometimes very close to the building’s toilets and showers. “It’s worse than in Matorral: we do not eat well and there is not enough water. I do not know how long we will stay here,” said Ahmed.

Another Guinea asylum seeker, Issa (not her real name), who arrived in the Canary Islands in September 2020 before being transferred to Nave del Queso, added:

We are more than 200. I have already taken two PCR tests but they take people out in pairs or in groups of three. I’m on my way to suicide.

The Nave del Queso Center has also been criticized by Amnesty International Spain, which has condemned it as a place that does not meet “minimum sanitation”, where men, women and children have been “deprived of their liberty”, in some cases for almost a month.

On April 12, police raided this quarantine center after a group of migrants demanded their release. Seven Senegalese people were arrested. On April 24, after much criticism, the authorities announced the “progressive closure” of Nave del Queso and released 21 women and four minors.

‘Some people hurt themselves’

Violent scenes have also taken place in other centers of the archipelago, such as on April 5 in the “macro camp” in Las Raices, which accommodates almost 1,500 people on the island of Tenerife. Eight people were taken into custody. Pictures published by the Tenerife Migrant Aid Assembly showed traces of blood on the stairs leading to the center’s medical center.

According to Roberto Mesa, a spokesman for the congregation, the violence could have been avoided:

In the Las Raices camp, there are almost 30 people of different nationalities in the same tent. There may be misunderstandings. When migrants ask for help, they hear “tomorrow, tomorrow”. The policy is unpredictable: some have been able to go to mainland Spain by buying a ticket themselves, others have applied for asylum and hold a passport but are still without a solution [since April 14 , a court decision allows migrants holding a passport or an application for international protection to travel to the mainland on their own, but according to NGOs, the implementation of this decision is very unpredictable and some migrants do not have the means to buy a ticket – editor’s note.] Some leave shortly after arrival, others do not. All this generates a lot of frustration. We have seen young people change psychologically, some of them self-harming. If there were more translators, doctors, lawyers and psychologists, we could avoid some of the tensions.

Since the beginning of the migration crisis, NGOs have warned that the Canary Islands will become a “prison” for migrants.

According to the Government of the Canary Islands, this is not the case. In mid-April, the Canary Islands’ government delegate said many migrants who had reached the archipelago were transferred to other regions, sent back to their countries of origin or left to their own units. The number of immigrants in both cases has not been communicated, but only 5,000 remain in the structures set up by the Ministry of Migration. Almost 2,000 minors are also in the archipelago and are under the rule of the Canary Islands.

However, according to various organizations we contacted, the number of migrants stranded in the archipelago can be much higher, especially because informal camps have been formed on the islands of Gran Canaria, Tenerife and Fuerteventura. Many homeless people have fled the reception centers, either because of the poor conditions in the camps or because they fear deportation.

In 2021, people will continue to arrive in the Canary Islands, but at a slower pace. From January to mid-April, 3,980 migrants reached the shores of this Spanish archipelago.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More