From file: The number of African migrants who have reached the Canary Islands via the Atlanic Ocean has increased significantly in recent months | Photo: Imago Images/Agencia EFE/J. Melian
From file: The number of African migrants who have reached the Canary Islands via the Atlanic Ocean has increased significantly in recent months | Photo: Imago Images/Agencia EFE/J. Melian

The surge in migrant arrivals from Africa to Spain's Canary Islands continues unabated: In less than three days, more than 2,200 migrants arrived on the Atlantic archipelago. Top EU officials have started to pay attention to the worsening situation.

From Saturday until Monday morning, a record 2,206 migrants arrived on the Spanish Canary Islands in 58 wooden boats. That's according to Spanish news agency Europa Press.

This latest surge brings the estimated total number of arrivals this year to close to 15,000, roughly four times as many as in the last two years combined. What's more, it is reportedly the highest rate of arrivals of African migrants to Spain's Atlantic islands since 2006, when 32,000 migrants arrived on the islands. 

Since then, only a few boats have dared to make the journey -- "not least because the route is considered the most dangerous crossing in the world," DW reporter Jan-Philipp Scholz wrote recently. According to IOM data, numbers started rising significantly in September 2019.

Read more: Will Spain's Canaries turn into a second Lesbos amid surge in migration?

According to news agency AP, one body was recovered from the sea on the weekend, from waters near the island of El Hierro. Another migrant was airlifted to hospital with "an unspecified health problem."

EU pledges support

During a visit to the Canaries over the weekend, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson ensured Europe's solidarity with Spain in coping with the surge in arrivals. "Migration management is a responsibility of EU as a whole," the Swede said in a press conference on Gran Canaria on Friday.

Spain's interior minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska, who accompanied Johansson, said new arrivals will henceforth be registered and tested for COVID-19 at a barracks instead of the port area of Arguineguín.

Arguineguín is a small fishing village in southwest Gran Canaria, the second-most populous island of the Canaries behind Tenerife. Some 1,800 people are reported to be staying there currently in cramped conditions in the open air.

In November alone, some 3,500 migrants are estimated to have reached the Canaries. Many of the new arrivals are put up in hotels that are empty because of the travel and health restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. With some 15 million visitors per year, the Canaries are a popular tourist destination.

The Spanish government has reportedly blocked nearly all transfers to the Spanish mainland. 

Deadly crossing

IOM's Missing Migrants Project has recorded nearly 500 migrant deaths and disappearances on the treacherous Atlantic route so far this year, more than twice as many fatalities as in all of last year. On October 24, 140 migrants drowned when a boat carrying around 200 capsized off Senegal.

Spain's Canary Islands, located some 100 kilometers (62 miles) west of the African coast, have become a regular destination for migrants fleeing poverty, violence and the economic hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Almost 11% of arrivals to the Canaries come from Mali, according to the UN refugee agency UNCHR's latest data, updated on November 1 this year. Moroccans account for the second-highest group of migrants, at about 8%, followed by people from Ivory Coast, Guinea and Senegal.

Many of the African migrants use shaky wooden boats called "Pateras" (Spanish for wooden boats), which are typically made for only up to ten people. Some migrants set sail more than 2,000 kilometers away from the Canaries.

With dpa

 

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