While migrant arrivals to Mainland Spain have decreased this year, the number of migrants and asylum seekers arriving in the Canary Islands has significantly increased. According to UNHCR, as of 18 October 24,259 arrivals had been registered in Spain, of whom 9,199 were registered in the Canary Islands. (In all of 2019, 2,698 migrants arrived in the Canaries.) This shift appears to have been spurred by Morocco’s efforts to block routes to the north of the country (and thus prevent irregular boat journeys to southern Spain) and the economic repercussions of the pandemic pushing greater numbers to move.
According to the IOM Missing Migrants Project, the irregular maritime route to the Canaries has been the most dangerous in the European region so far this year. During January-July 2020, one death was recorded for approximately every 20 arrivals. Most recently, more than 100 migrants were feared dead after an explosion sank a fishing boat attempting the route from Senegal.
The surge in arrivals–in addition to COVID-related deportation flight cancellations and Spain’s reluctance to transfer migrants to the mainland–has led to growing migratory pressure on the islands. A representative of the Spanish Commission to Help Refugees said, “Blocking people from leaving the Canaries has turned the islands into an open-air prison.” According to observers, reception facilities on the islands are full, and non-nationals have been placed in churches, schools, and makeshift accommodation at docks and ports.
In October, ECRE reported that more than 1,000 migrants and asylum seekers were staying at
Arguineguín Pier (Gran Canaria), where initial registration and health checks (including COVID-19 tests) are carried out. Most were residing in tents provided by the Red Cross, but approximately 200 were forced to sleep in the open. Local media reports have suggested that authorities plan to utilise a ship to provide additional initial accommodation.
Spanish newspapers have also reported that in Las Palmas, the Prosecutor’s Office has been separating children from their parents in order to conduct DNA tests. Reports indicate that several children have been sent to a centre for unaccompanied minors, where they have remained while test results are assessed. As of 20 October, four children who had been separated from their parents in August had yet to be reunited with their families–despite tests confirming their relation to their mothers.
- UNHCR, “Operational Portal: Refugee Situations – Spain,” Accessed 27 October 2020, https://data2.unhcr.org/en/country/esp
- Mixed Migration Centre, “Quarterly Mixed Migration Update: West Africa,” October 2020, http://www.mixedmigration.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/qmmu-q3-2020-wa.pdf
- G. Keeley, “More Than 100 Migrants Feared Drowned After Explosion Sinks Overcrowded Boat off Senegal,” The Independent, 27 October 2020, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/senegal-migrants-boat-explosion-drowned-spain-canary-islands-b1362933.html
- M. MacGregor, “Surge in Migrants Reaching Canary Islands,” InfoMigrants, 3 September 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/27032/surge-in-migrants-reaching-canary-islands
- B. Hernández, “La Delegación llevará a los inmigrantes a naves para dejar Arguineguín «al mínimo»” Canarias7, 20 October 2020, https://www.canarias7.es/canarias/delegacion-llevara-inmigrantes-20201020233647-nt.html?ref=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.ecre.org%2F
- European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), “Atlantic Route: Arrivals in Canary Islands Continue to Rise, more than 1,000 People Cramped at Arguineguín Pier, Children Separated from their Parents for Months in Order to Prove Kinship,” 23 October 2020, https://www.ecre.org/atlantic-route-arrivals-in-canary-islands-continue-to-rise-more-than-1000-people-cramped-at-arguineguin-pier-children-separated-from-their-parents-for-months-in-order-to-prove-kinship/
- El Pais, “Niños separados de sus madres tras llegar en patera a Canarias,” 21 October 2020, https://elpais.com/espana/2020-10-21/ninos-separados-de-sus-madres-tras-llegar-en-patera-a-canarias.html