Spain seeks diplomatic deals to stem Canary Islands migrant surge

AFP - [email protected]
Spain seeks diplomatic deals to stem Canary Islands migrant surge
Migrants from a group of 1,300 rescued from different boats remain in the port of Arguineguin on Gran Canaria. Photo: Desiree Martin/AFP

Spain is to send two senior ministers to Senegal and Morocco to try and stop soaring numbers of migrants heading to the Canary Islands, which are overwhelmed by new arrivals.


Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya will head to Senegal on Sunday, while Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska will travel to Morocco on November 20, the islands' regional policy chief Carolina Darias said Friday.
The government "wants to encourage the diplomatic path" to ensure "nobody risks their life getting aboard one of these boats," she said.
The two ministers have recently visited other African nations which are popular departure points for migrants hoping to reach Europe such as Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania and landlocked Chad.
At the same time, she said, Madrid would also tighten security around the Canary Islands, which lie around 100 kilometres (60 miles) off Morocco's western coast.
And the government would add several more ships as well as a submarine, a helicopter and a plane to the existing fleet patrolling the waters between the African coast and the volcanic archipelago.
A similar strategy was adopted by Madrid in 2006 when some 30,000 migrants reached the Canary Islands.
At the time, Spain stepped up patrols and signed treaties with countries like Senegal and Mauritania to stem the flow, often in exchange for financial aid.


'Doomed to failure'
But rights groups said the strategy was unlikely to work.
"In 2006, they tried to impose strict border controls at the point of origin.. but it didn't stop people from coming," said Virginia Alverez, head of research at Amnesty International in Spain, explaining the migrants simply took other routes.
"They want to transfer responsibility to third countries and that is doomed to failure," she told AFP.
And Judith Sunderland, acting deputy director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch agreed.
"That might work in the short term but it doesn't work in the long term," she told AFP. "You close one route and another route opens and usually, that new route is more expensive and more dangerous."
The route from western Africa to the Canaries is notoriously dangerous, but it has once again become popular with migrants as authorities have cracked down on other Mediterranean routes.
There has been a surge in migrant arrivals in the Canary Islands in recent months after the EU reached border control agreements with Morocco, Libya and Turkey.
So far this year, more than 16,000 migrants have reached the Canary Islands -- nearly 10 times the number that arrived in the whole of 2019.
Last weekend alone, the number of people reaching the islands spiked with more than 2,000 arrivals -- including a record 1,400 on one day.


Overcrowded port
Earlier this week, Amnesty and HRW called for urgent changes at Arguineguin port on Gran Canaria where some 1,800 people are staying at a temporary encampment that was only set up to process arrivals.
"The situation at the port is complicated, there is a huge amount of people," admitted Inigo Vila, head of emergencies at the Red Cross, who is running the operation.
HRW's Sunderland, who visited the port on November 7 before the huge weekend influx, said migrants were sleeping on the ground with one portable toilet to serve 30 to 40 people.
"Even if it was not over capacity, the conditions wouldn't respect their dignity," she said on Friday.
The government has vowed to dismantle the temporary camp and move the migrants to military sites elsewhere on the archipelago.


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also