Migrants arrive in the port of Arguineguin on Gran Canaria, Spain | Photo: EPA/Angel Medina
Migrants arrive in the port of Arguineguin on Gran Canaria, Spain | Photo: EPA/Angel Medina

The situation on the migration route to the Canary Islands is extremely serious, Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said Tuesday in a debate in the EU parliament. She said the bloc needed to work with external partners to protect human lives and fight against traffickers.

The situation on the Canary Islands and en route to the Spanish archipelago is very serious, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said Tuesday during a debate in the European Parliament about the humanitarian situation of migrants and refugees on the external borders of the EU.

She said that due to a stark increase in migrant arrivals on the Spanish islands, the European Commission had provided further financial support to local authorities through its agencies. She also said that EU border agency Frontex was present on the Canary Islands to support Spanish officials.

Crossing extremely dangerous

Johansson said that the EU needed to fight against traffickers in the region and "work with [its] external partners to protect human lives."

The sea crossing from northwestern Africa to the Canary Islands is one of the most dangerous migration routes worldwide. At least 600 deaths and disappearances were recorded last year, according to the UN. However, the actual number of deaths could be much higher -- NGO Caminando Fronteras estimates that more than 1,800 people died trying to reach the Canaries in 2020.

Not everyone entitled to asylum

Johansson stressed that not all those that want to go to the EU have the right to remain there and that only those with the right to international protection and asylum would be allowed to.

However, she stressed: "All human beings have rights and dignity, even if they don't have the right to remain, they have the right to be treated with dignity and with our values."

Record arrivals on Canary Islands in 2020

The Canary Islands saw an extremely high number of migrant arrivals on its coasts in 2020; the number of arrivals spiked in particular during the second half of the year.

According to Frontex, over 22,600 undocumented crossings occurred on the West Africa migration route last year: eight times that of the previous year. This figure is the highest since the EU border agency began collecting data in 2009.

However, the number of migrant arrivals on the Canary Islands last year did not exceed the arrival numbers of 2006, when more than 30,000 migrants made it to the islands.


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