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09 February 2021 – Spain

Camp Canarias 50 Viewed from Above in Gran Canaria on 26 January 2021, (Borja Suarez, Reuters,
Camp Canarias 50 Viewed from Above in Gran Canaria on 26 January 2021, (Borja Suarez, Reuters, "Spain: New migrant camps in the Canary Islands," InfoMigrants, 27 January 2021,

During the past year Spain’s Canary Islands, situated off the western coast of North Africa, have witnessed a surge in migrant and asylum-seeker arrivals, a recurring situation that emerges when migration routes elsewhere in Africa are blocked. According to the Spanish Interior Ministry, the number of maritime arrivals during 2020 was eight times higher than in 2019: 23,023 compared to the previous year’s 2,687. In the first two weeks of 2021, 1,069 arrivals were registered. With Spanish authorities refusing to transfer arrivals to mainland Spain during the pandemic, thousands have found themselves trapped on the islands.

Responding to the restrictions of movement imposed on asylum seekers on the Canaries, the Spanish Ombudsman (Defensor del Pueblo) sent a “reminder of legal duty” (or “recordatorio de deber legal”) to the Interior Ministry in early February, stating that the police could not limit the right to freedom of movement for people seeking international protection, as established by law in 2009 and reaffirmed by several Supreme Court decisions. The Interior Ministry has pointed to increasing pressures on Spain’s asylum system, reporting that between January-November 2020, the country received nearly 85,000 asylum requests, with the majority of requests submitted by people from Venezuela, Colombia, and Honduras.

With the number of maritime arrivals in Gran Canaria on the rise, authorities have opened two new reception centres in unused military facilities, replacing a makeshift camp on Arguinéguin Pier. However, according to various reports, rather than providing arrivals with safe and dignified open accommodation, officials are detaining many new arrivals for 10 days at the newly opened Barranco Seco CATE (not to be confused with the long-term detention facility, Barranco Seco CIE), which has had freezing and cramped tented conditions. This far exceeds the 72-hour detention limit in place at the facility. It is unclear whether arrivals placed in the second facility–the “Leon School” in Las Palmas–are facing similar detention situations. However, reports indicate that many migrants and asylum seekers are unable to leave the school out of fear of attacks from the local community (several have complained of locals threatening them with knives and guns).

According to media reports, the opening of these new sites has fueled frustrations and fears amongst the migrant and asylum seeker community, and protests, hunger strikes, self harm, and suicide attempts have been growing increasingly frequent. El Pais reports that on 5 February, a group of 80 people–mostly from Morocco and Mauritania–were sent to a new Tenerife camp called Las Raíces. When they arrived, they found tents filled with mud and water, and were forced to take refuge on bunk beds under blankets. A Moroccan man scheduled to be moved to the camp and interviewed by the newspaper said, “The center in Tenerife is a freezer. And it’s a way of holding us all together in order to deport us to Morocco. We don’t want to go back. Ever.”

A COVID-19 outbreak has been reported at Tenerife’s Hoya Fría CIE detention centre, which re-opened in November 2020 following a nine month closure. As of 3 February, 21 detainees were reported to have contracted the virus–a figure that represents 31 percent of the facility’s current population (67 detainees)–and one detainee with underlying health conditions has been transferred to hospital for treatment. The centre was previously criticised for its conditions, and Cáritas Diocesana de Tenerife–which visits the facility–has stated that CIEs such as Hoya Fría are “places that violate human rights.” In January, conditions reportedly worsened in the wake of Storm Filomena, which caused flooding in corridors and the collapse of several areas of roof. The Spanish National Police Union (JUPOL) in Tenerife has called for Hoya Fría’s immediate closure.