Spain’s detention and removal operations have begun to return to normal operations after major disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which had spurred the country to temporarily close all its detention centres shortly after onset of the pandemic in early 2020. Despite this, COVID continues to wreak havoc in detention centres even as the country ramps up detention operations as migration pressures continue unabated.
Migrant deportation flights to Morocco, which had been suspended for nearly an entire year, resumed on 22 March 2022. According to El Mundo, prior to the suspension of the flights, Spain deported on average 80 Moroccan nationals per week from the Canary Islands. Ministry of Interior data, published by the country’s Ombudsman office, reveal that more than half of migrants that arrive in the Canary Islands are Moroccan nationals.
The first group of Moroccan nationals who were returned on 22 March 2022 had been detained at the Gran Canaria Detention Centre, which is once again operational since the start of March 2022. Other centres have also re-opened, including the Centro de Internamiento de Extranjeros (CIE) of Hoya Fría in Tenerife.
In January 2022, approximately 20 detainees at the Zapadores CIE in Valencia tested positive for COVID-19. The campaign group “CIE No” said it was expected that there would be an outbreak in the centre due to the lack of social distancing measures in place and the contagious new variant. The group stated that PCR tests were only conducted after several detainees developed symptoms and denounced the “passive attitude and lack of operability of the CIE staff to take measures in the face of possible contagion.”
The Zapadores centre, which had been closed since the start of the pandemic, re-opened in July 2021. A spokesperson for “CIE No” said that detainees who test positive are placed in isolation in the top floors of the centre and those that test negative in the bottom floors. However, all detainees are grouped back together in common areas like the courtyard and the dining room. On 14 January 2022, the campaign group denounced that the outbreak of COVID-19 at the Zapadores CIE had not been reported to the Regional Ministry of Health by the management of the centre until several days after the inmates showed symptoms. The group said these actions “demonstrated negligence on part of those in charge of the CIE, in dealing with this outbreak and the inability of the facility to ensure the prevention and containment of the virus.”
A similar situation occurred on 26 January 2022 at the Zona Franca CIE in Barcelona where 23 cases of COVID-19 were detected. SOS Racisme sent a complaint to the CIE control court highlighting the urgent health situation inside the detention centre and asking for effective measures to guarantee adequate care for detainees. According to the group, while detainees who test positive are isolated from other detainees, they are forced to share cells with each other. Certain detainees are on hunger strike and one has expressed suicidal thoughts. The organisation made several requests including that the current CIE health protocol on contagion and quarantine management be imposed and that it be agreed that persons in quarantine be moved to a suitable place outside the CIE.
According to data published by the International Organisation for Migration, of the nearly 5,800 deaths on migration routes in 2021, more than 1,000 were recorded on the Atlantic route to the Canary Islands. Since 2018, the number of deaths on that route has increased steadily with 43 deaths in 2018, 202 in 2019, 877 in 2020, and 1,109 last year.
In a separate report, the group Caminando Fronteras included in its count of deaths people whose bodies have not been recovered but whose families reported their departure from the African coast. Based on their calculation, there were 4,016 deaths on the Atlantic route in 2021 (around 12 people a day). Caminando Fronteras drew a direct link between the sharp increase in the number of deaths and European efforts to curb migration in the Mediterranean. In consequence, many refugees turn to one of the most dangerous crossings into Europe, to the Canary Islands. In January 2022, the organisation called on the Spanish government to urgently address this rise in deaths, noting that more than thirty years had passed since a body was found on the shores of Andalusia, in what is believed to be the first death of a Spain-bound refugee. The director of Caminando Fronteras said that “in those 34 years, the idea that people can die by crossing a border has become something that people have accepted as normal. It’s not normal.”
According to Frontex, approximately 11.5 percent of the 194,948 people who reportedly entered the EU irregularly in 2021 arrived via the Atlantic route to the Canary Islands, totalling 22,504 arrivals. Red Cross data indicates that nearly 15 percent of arrivals to the Canary Islands are under the age of 18. From January to March 2022, 42 infants, 88 children from three to eleven years old, and 585 adolescents from 12 to 17 years old arrived on the islands.
On 4 April 2022, two small boats arrived at Gran Canaria with a total of 97 migrants onboard. According to figures published by the Interior Ministry, there has been an increase of around 70.9% (total of 5,871 persons) in irregular arrivals to the Canary islands compared with the first three months of 2021.
- M. MacGregor, “Canary Islands: More Migrants Risk Deadly Atlantic Route,” Infomigrants, 5 April 2022, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/39667/canary-islands-more-migrants-risk-deadly-atlantic-route
- Frontex, “EU External Borders in 2021: Arrivals Above Pre-Pandemic Levels,” 11 January 2022, https://frontex.europa.eu/media-centre/news/news-release/eu-external-borders-in-2021-arrivals-above-pre-pandemic-levels-CxVMNN
- Caminando Fronteras, “Monitoring the Right to Life on the Euro-African Western Border: Year 2021,” 2022, https://caminandofronteras.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/MONITORE-DALVEN_v01.pdf
- A. Kassam, “Death Toll of Refugees Attempting to Reach Spain Doubles in 2021,” The Guardian, 3 January 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/03/death-toll-of-refugees-attempting-to-reach-spain-doubles-in-2021
- I. Ortiz Viera, “El Gobierno se Prepara Para Reanudar las Repatriaciones Tras Abrir los CIE,” Canarias 7, 3 March 2022, https://www.canarias7.es/politica/gobierno-prepara-reanudar-20220303192458-nt.html?ref=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F
- El Salto Diario, “El CIE de Zapadores de Valencia, Sin Capacidad para Aislar a los Contagiados, Registra 20 Casos de COVID entre los Internos,” 11 January 2022, https://www.elsaltodiario.com/cie/cie-zapadores-valencia-capacidad-aislar-contagiados-registra-20-casos-covid-internos
- El Salto Diario, “CIEs No Denuncia que la Dirección de Zapadores en València no Notificó los Contagios de COVID a Salud Pública,” 14 January 2022, https://www.elsaltodiario.com/cie/cies-no-denuncia-direccion-zapadores-no-notifico-contagios-covid-salud-publica
- Irídia, “Denunciamos la Mala Gestión de un Brote de COVID-19 Dentro del CIE de la Zona Franca,” 26 January 2022, https://iridia.cat/es/denunciamos-la-mala-gestion-de-un-brote-de-covid-19-dentro-del-cie-de-la-zona-franca/
- Entrance of the Zapadores de València (M. Rodriguez, “El CIE de Zapadores de València, sin capacidad para aislar a los contagiados, registra 20 casos de covid entre los internos,” El Salto Diario, 11 January 2022, https://www.elsaltodiario.com/cie/cie-zapadores-valencia-capacidad-aislar-contagiados-registra-20-casos-covid-internos