Spanish government transfers migrants out of Canary Islands ‘port of shame’
The makeshift facilities in Arguineguín are empty for the first time since August, but smugglers continue to send people on dangerous sea voyages to the archipelago
Spanish authorities on Sunday cleared the port of Arguineguín, in Spain’s Canary Islands, where as many as 2,600 undocumented migrants had been living in precarious conditions at various times of the year.
Buses could be seen coming and going all day long to take 600 people who remained at the port to a new camp set up on military land in Barranco Seco, near Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, or to nearby hotels serving as temporary emergency housing. The Defense Ministry has offered additional space on the islands of Tenerife and Fuerteventura.
The operation was coordinated by the National Police, the Red Cross and the Office of the State Secretary for Migrations in a joint effort to address a growing humanitarian crisis at the so-called “port of shame.” It marks the first time since early August that the makeshift port facilities have been empty, although these will not necessarily be completely shut down yet. Police sources said that will depend on how fast new housing can be set up, and on the pace of new arrivals.
The Ombudsman has asked the Interior Ministry to close the port facilities “immediately”
There have been more than 19,000 boat landings in the Canary Islands this year, a huge surge from previous years that is only comparable to the so-called “cayuco crisis” of 2006, when 31,000 people arrived in small, rickety boats called cayucos. The new surge coincides with a drop in land crossings at the exclave cities of Ceuta and Melilla, and it has made the Canary Islands the main point of illegal entry into Spain this year .
The rising number of arrivals has also sparked several protests in coastal towns in the Canary Islands and raised fears the far right could use the crisis for political profit.
A Spanish court last week ruled that the conditions of migrants being kept in Arguineguín’s port facilities were “deplorable” but did not constitute a criminal offense. But the Ombudsman has asked the Interior Ministry to close the port facilities “immediately” following an inspection by technicians. The migrants living there were sleeping on thin blankets, receiving three sandwiches a day and fruit juice, and lacked access to showers. Despite the presence of people with the coronavirus, there was no possibility of social distancing.
Police sources in the Canary Islands said that around 70% of the migrants who arrived in the archipelago this year departed from Morocco, and of these, 70% are Moroccan nationals, half of whom left from the port of Dakhla, in Western Sahara.
According to these sources, “Moroccan mafias charge €1,500 to €2,000 per person, use safer vessels, load them with fewer people, bring two engines in case one fails, and never put in women or children for cultural and family reasons, and because they are trying to guarantee arrivals, since they know that if the boat capsizes, there will be reprisals back in their village.”
By contrast, “the sub-Saharans wait in worse places and conditions, pay €1,000, and travel in bad boats in overcrowded conditions... The mafias in those countries are ruthless, they’ll pack the boats with women, children, babies... They don’t care whether they get there or not.”
The Spanish Civil Guard has around 20 officers stationed in the Sahel area, where they are tasked with patrolling the coast of Senegal and Mauritania and training local police forces in Niger, Mali and Mauritania to tackle the smuggling rings.
According to Spanish law-enforcement officials familiar with the situation, the sub-Saharan smugglers pay a fee to the Moroccan mafias in order to “work” in the latter’s territory, where the boats depart from. The “business” creates returns of €1,000 to €2,000 for every smuggled individual.
English version by Susana Urra.