Spain’s Canary Islands struggle as 1,000 migrants land in 48 hours

Influx fuelled by Morocco’s coronavirus border closures

epa08733162 Emergency Services personnel provide medical attention to some of the rescued migrants at sea, upon arrival at the Las Salinas port in Fuerteventura, Canary Islands, Spain, 09 October 2020. More than 700 migrants arrived at Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura aboard 22 boats, an unprecedented figure for a single day since the 2006 canoe crisis.  EPA/CARLOS DE SAA
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Authorities in the Spanish Canary Islands said they were struggling to cope with the arrival of 1,000 migrants in 48 hours.

After the surge between Thursday and Saturday, local leaders criticised the government in Madrid for its handling of the situation.

Border closures in Morocco to deal with the coronavirus pandemic are believed to have causedthe influx.

About 2,700 migrants were housed in the island's hotels, which were hard hit by a drop in tourist numbers because of the pandemic. Other migrants were put up in temporary shelters.

Spain's migration minister Jose Luis Escriva promised a "comprehensive response" to the rising number of arrivals, The Telegraph reported.

A migrant rescued in the Atlantic Ocean is pictured after arriving aboard a Spanish coast guard vessel at the port of Arguineguin on the island of Gran Canaria, Spain, February 14, 2020. REUTERS/Borja Suarez
The Canary Islands are becoming a new gateway for migrants trying to reach Europe. Reuters

But the minister met with protest and criticism in the Canaries because of a lack of concrete proposals.

Blas Acosta, the leader of Fuerteventura’s island council, said Mr Escriva should consider his position after a meeting that the minister cut short.

“If [Mr Escriva] is overwhelmed by the situation and doesn’t wish to co-operate, he should step aside and let other people do the job,” the council leader said.

Residents directed their ire against local officials when migrants were housed in their neighbourhoods. Augusto Hidalgo, the mayor of Las Palmas on the island of Gran Canaria, faced protests after he took Mr Escriva to a temporary migrant shelter in a former primary school.

The rate of migrants to the Canaries has created an influx not seen in at least 10 years, according to the Red Cross, as Africans turned to the islands after agreements between Turkey, Morocco and Libya tightened control over the Mediterranean route to Europe's shores.

FILE PHOTO: Migrants, who are part of a group intercepted aboard a dinghy off the coast, rest upon arriving at port in Arguineguin, in the Canary Island of Gran Canaria, Spain, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Borja Suarez/File Photo
Migrants, who are part of a group intercepted aboard a dinghy off the coast, rest upon arriving at port in Arguineguin, in the Canary Island of Gran Canaria, Spain, October 16, 2017. Reuters 

Since Thursday, 1,015 people have arrived on 37 vessels, landing on the islands of Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria and Tenerife. The latter two territories are about 300 kilometres from the African coast.

Most of the migrants, from North Africa or sub-Saharan African nations, were in good health, although some were suffering symptoms of hypothermia, a Red Cross spokesman said.

All were tested for the new coronavirus, the official said.

The Red Cross said the rate of arrivals was more or less the same as in 2006, when 30,000 migrants landed in the Canary Islands.

Between January and September 30 this year, more than 6,000 migrants landed in the Canaries, six times the number that arrived in the same period in 2019, according to the Spanish interior ministry.

Border closures in Morocco are being blamed for the return to 2006 levels.

Many of the migrants arriving in the Canary Islands were thought to have started their journey in Senegal. Any hope they might have had of reaching Italy from Libya, for instance, were frustrated by Morocco's border closures.