Spain is opening new camps for undocumented migrants in the Canary Islands. The move comes amid local tensions on the islands in response to continuing migrant arrivals from Africa.
After a significant increase in the number of people arriving in the Canary Islands off northwest Africa, Spanish authorities have begun moving some migrants to tents in two camps on Gran Canaria, the largest island of the archipelago.
Four more camps will be opened in mid-February on Gran Canaria, Tenerife and Fuerteventura islands for up to 7,000 migrants, the news agency Reuters has reported.
The migrants will initially be accommodated in tents that have been pitched in unused military facilities, and they will be able to enter and leave freely. Officials said the tents will provide shelter for the migrants as they wait to be transferred off the island and while their asylum applications are being processed, according to Reuters. The tents are to be replaced with permanent facilities at a later date, the agency reports.
Effort to discourage migrants
The government says it does not want to transfer the migrants to mainland Spain, because that could encourage more migrants to attempt to come to Europe. But a spokesperson for the Spanish Refugee Council, Txema Santana, said this was the wrong approach.
"Accumulating people in a reception territory like the Canaries will generate nothing positive for the local population or the migrants because it complicates their access to rights," he said.
Santana said the government was acting too late, not coordinating with local authorities and not providing adequate living conditions in the camps.
Migrants continue to arrive on the Canary Islands, with emergency services called to the rescue of 62 sub-Saharan African migrants travelling in a wooden boat about 13 kilometers south of the island of Fuerteventura, the Spanish news agency EFE reported on Tuesday. The migrants reportedly left from Western Sahara and were nationals of Guinea Conakry, Gambia, Senegal, Cameroon and Comoros.
Last year, the number of migrants arriving in the Canaries increased nearly ten-fold to around 23,000, up from 2,687 in 2019. Arrivals in the first 15 days of January rose by 234% on the same time last year to a total of 1,069 migrants, according to Reuters.
Most migrants arriving on the islands were housed at a crowded dockside camp in Gran Canaria until it was forced to close down in November. Many were then moved to hotels left empty due to the shutdown of the tourism sector in the coronavirus pandemic.
That triggered local protests against migrants, some backed by the far-right party Vox, which denounced a "migratory invasion".
"The situation in the Canary Islands is unsustainable," the leader of Vox, Santiago Abascal, tweeted last week.
"There is fear in homes, violence in the streets and the invasion promoted by the government continues. Many people write to me from there, desperate. How infuriating not to be able to help them more. And what motivation to fight to the end."
Tom Smulders, the vice-president of the Canaries' FEHT hotel federation, said the sector was happy to have helped, but he added that the transfer of migrants to the new camps had been too slow.
"We had agreed this was a temporary solution and the end date was December 31," he told Reuters.