Migrants arrive at the Canary Islands after being rescued in the Atlantic, January 29 2022 | Photo: Reuters
Migrants arrive at the Canary Islands after being rescued in the Atlantic, January 29 2022 | Photo: Reuters

The centers for unaccompanied minors in the Canary Islands have reached saturation point. Regional officials say that without state aid, new arrivals will be forced to sleep on the streets.

"We can't take it anymore," declared Iratxe Serrano, the Director General of Child and Family Protection of the Canary Islands Government, admitting that she is "exhausted". In an interview with the Spanish news agency EFE at the beginning of February, Serrano asked for the authorities' help to take care of the unaccompanied minors who keep arriving in the archipelago.

The arrival of about 50 young people in January, especially on the island of Lanzarote, has further aggravated the situation. The reception centers for minors in the Canary Islands are now completely saturated.

Nearly 2,800 young people who have arrived in recent years on makeshift boats from the West African coast are currently in the care of the Canary Islands government, which provides them with accommodation, access to education and health care.

Read more: Spain: More than 220 people rescued trying to reach Canary Islands

'No more resources'

"I don't know where to look anymore, we have scoured the entire real estate sector, there are no more resources," complained Serrano. She appealed to the Canary Islands municipalities, which refuse to receive minors because "they believe that they [migrants] are causing conflict," she explained. "This is not the case. And you can't play politics with these children."

The town of Haria in the north of Lanzarote is one of the worst performers. The town hall refuses to collaborate with the authorities, and blocks the use of available properties to house them. As a result, there is a shortage of facilities and no one knows where the new arrivals who declare themselves to be minors will be transferred to. "The army will have to set up tents because there are no more solutions in the existing centers," said Serrano.

Serrano had already sounded the alarm back in 2018, when the Canaries route started up again for migrants. The network of reception of minors was soon under pressure.

Read more: Canary Islands: More than 370 migrants rescued in one night

Testing for minority on the beaches

According to the Canary Island's Minister for Social Rights, Noemí Santana, the problem also stems from the fact that some people declare themselves minors when they are in fact adults.

It can take several weeks to have their age of majority (or minority) officially recognized, which clogs up the facilities for actual minors while all the cases are being processed. Adults are taking up places in youth centers when they should be housed in asylum seekers' shelters.

To ease the pressure on the reception network, the Canary Islands government has asked the Spanish Ministry of the Interior to deploy child protection staff "at the foot of the coast" to assess the ages of minors as soon as they arrive in the archipelago.

The Spanish government had initially refused this option because of the coronavirus pandemic. But in the face of protests, the government delegate, Anselmo Pestana, has announced that more military personnel will be stationed on the beaches of the Canaries. The soldiers will carry out tests to assess the age of migrants, which they hope "will greatly alleviate the pressure" in the centers.

Read more: Hundreds rescued trying to reach Spain’s Canary Islands

'No longer a question of solidarity but of co-responsibility'

For a number of years, this archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic has been asking the Spanish authorities for help in managing the reception of migrants. In 2021, about 22,000 people landed in the Canary Islands and more than 23,000 came in 2020. This year, the numbers are already high, with the arrival of some 3,500 migrants since January 1.

In May 2021, Santana promised to ensure the distribution of nearly 3,000 minors to other regions within two months. But nine months later, it is clear that the archipelago is carrying the burden of the care of these young people on its own. For Fabián Chinea, the senator of the island of La Gomera, if the government "does not act urgently, many minors will be forced to sleep outside due to the inability of those who have not been able to make a decision to solve an extremely serious problem."

"It is no longer a question of solidarity but of co-responsibility," said Santana, in a session in the regional parliament. "This is a humanitarian crisis. When children arrive in the Canary Islands they arrive in Spain, and the government and the rest of the autonomous communities [of the archipelago] are co-responsible."


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