Canary Islands, the Lesbos of the Atlantic

It has been five months since the images of shame: 2,500 migrants arrived in patera to the Spanish coasts crammed in the Arguineguín fishing pier, a town south of the island of Gran Canaria. We wondered how something like this could happen again on European territory and in a recent report The Ombudsman, in his capacity as the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture, certified what was already evident just by looking at the photographs:

The temperature inside the stores reached 40 degrees at various times during the visit. Nor were the minimum hygiene conditions met in a place where 2,000 people were crowded on the day of the visit, without the possibility of physical access to cleaning services. The bathrooms were insufficient and there was no access to drinking water (…) Many of the people were barefoot and others with shoes in poor condition. The clothes they were wearing were dirty and unsuitable for the weather conditions. In addition, it was found that at least 80 people with positive PCR remained there.

More than a decade after the so-called Cayucos Crisis, the Canary Islands has once again become the main migratory route to Europe. 23,023 people in 2020 alone. However, contrary to what may seem due to the constant information drip, in the European context 13% fewer migrants were detected in 2020 than in the previous year due to the decrease in arrivals through Turkey . And it is that as CEAR points out in a report entitled ‘Canary Islands: The foreseeable emergency’, “Migratory routes are communicating vessels: when one closes, a more dangerous one is activated”.

Bamba is a young Senegalese fisherman who arrived in Gran Canaria by boat and who after passing through Arguineguín has found a new family. María and Samuel take care of Bamba as if he were one of their children and they are teaching him to read and write. / SER string

We are witnessing in the Canary Islands how the Government is reproducing a model of migration management based on containment, just as it has already done in the Greek islands and in Lampedusa. Jack Jalo is a Senegalese migrant who arrived months ago in Gran Canaria and whose destination is A Coruña, where his brother has lived for years: “I have already lost two plane tickets to travel”. For months the authorities have prevented migrants from boarding and leaving the islands, despite the fact that they enjoy freedom of movement as they are not detained. Jack tells us that he never lost confidence and that he knew he would make it to Europe alive. He is the driver and imagines his life here with a house, a family and being able to return to his native Senegal on vacation. Nothing extraordinary.

“The authorities have dedicated themselves to plugging ports and airports. With the excuse of verifying their identity, they are made to miss the flight or the ship and, those who try to travel, are returned to their countries. This is how they are selected ”, says Judge Arcadio Díaz-Tejera. Last week justice dictated the first resolution against the blockade, de facto, which keeps thousands of migrants trapped on the islands without being able to travel. The lack of foresight, a public reception system reduced to a minimum and an erratic and improvised policy have consolidated a migration management system based on the systematic violation of rights and of Spanish laws: “When some authority arrives here, as I did with two MEPs, I take them there for the boys to ask them. They ask you about everything Why am I here? Why are they holding me here? I don’t know what to answer. Many questions, but they are not for a judge, but for the different rulers, ”says Díaz-Tejera.

Arcadio Díaz-Tejera is head of the court of instruction 8 of Las Palmas that supervises the CIE of Barranco Seco and denounces the violations of rights that are being systematically committed in the Canary Islands / Daniel Sousa / Cadena SER

The retention policy in the southern European islands goes beyond the migrants themselves. Local societies, as we should have already learned from the Lesbos and Lampedusa experiences, are under stress. The economic crisis caused by the coronavirus is being especially hard in the Canary Islands, a community whose economy depends, to a large extent, on tourism. In the south of Gran Canaria, where many of the boats arrive and where most of the tourist complexes are located, some Red Cross volunteers are rebuked for helping migrants: “Things have calmed down because they have already taken the migrants out of the hotels and now we are not so bad. They don’t tell us so many things anymore, ”says Ángel, a 73-year-old man who is a volunteer at the San Bartolomé de Tirajana Red Cross.. The government’s improvised strategy of accommodating them in empty hotels due to the pandemic was initially well received by neighbors and businessmen, but, over the months, it has given way to frustration and, now, migrants carry their backs with the sanbenito of paralyzing the economic engine of the islands, without having anything to do with them. “With this, everyone has won. When they were in Arguineguín there were almost 2,000 sandwiches, three times a day. At 3 euros. The cheese, the sausage, the bread win… ”, says Ángel.

Ruth and Ángel are volunteers with the Red Cross in San Bartolomé de Tirajana, in the south of the island of Gran Canaria. / Daniel Sousa / Cadena SER

According to the International Organization for Migration in 2020, 609 people drowned trying to reach the Canary Islands. Other NGOs raise the figure to almost 2,000 dead. What is clear is that the Canarian route last year registered the highest fatality in two decades.

Are we really willing to repeat an already failed model?

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