The Atlantic route had resurfaced. The figures for the last four-month period of 2019, when 2,085 people arrived in the Canary Islands in boats or cayucos from the African continent, served as a prelude to the migratory reality of this 2020. The Foreigners Internment Center (CIE) of Hoya Fría, in Tenerife, it remained open. The Barranco Seco, in Gran Canaria, reopened in November after more than a year closed for works to comply with the law that controls these establishments, where migrants who can be repatriated spend a maximum of 60 days. However, despite the fact that hundreds of people were expelled to Mauritania, many had to benefit from Spain’s humanitarian reception system, as they were potential asylum seekers. Among them, Malians who escaped the war their country is suffering. It was then that organizations and specialized groups began to warn of the lack of an action plan. “You have to have the capacity for foresight. Analyze the resources that may be used to face a fragile humanitarian care situation,” the president of CEAR in the Canary Islands, Juan Carlos Lorenzo, warned in January 2020. Ten months later, the COVID-19 pandemic has advanced the collapse, Canarian politics begins to mobilize demanding spaces from the Ministry of Defense and “misinformation and fear” have triggered racist reactions among the island population.
The Archipelago has received more than 4,500 survivors so far this year from different parts of the African continent, such as Morocco, Mali, Gambia, Sierra Leone or Western Sahara. The intensity of the migratory flow on this route has meant that even La Palma, the second furthest Canary island in Africa, has received a boat with 24 people on board. Something that has not happened since 2014 and that has only taken place five times in recent history. The day of September 8 has also gone down in the history of the southern border. More than 200 immigrants arrived in the Islands in five boats and three boats rescued by Salvamento Marítimo in the south of Gran Canaria and Tenerife, where one of them arrived dead. The obligation that all immigrants pass a mandatory quarantine in spaces where interpersonal separation is guaranteed and where they are distributed based on whether they have symptoms of COVID-19 or if they have tested positive for the disease, in order to comply with the protocol established by the Ministry of Migration has added difficulties to the reception system.RELATED
The overcrowding of more than 300 immigrants on the Arguineguín dock, in the south of Gran Canaria, waiting to be transferred to reception spaces, is the stamp that has awakened members of all political levels and even professionals from the Administration of Justice, like the judge of control of the CIE of Barranco Seco, Arcadio Díaz Tejera. On the national political scene, the Secretary of State for Migration, Hana Jalloul, participated in a forum with the president of the regional government to seek solutions to the crisis in migration management that the Islands and the State are going through. For her part, the Minister of Inclusion, Social Security and Migrations, José Luis Escrivá, promised to travel to the region. The visit had been announced for last Wednesday, September 9, but was postponed. A change of plans that sowed “malaise” in the Presidency of the regional Executive. Escrivá claimed that a specific date was never set. “I cannot accept being told that I have sat down. I will go when I have a sufficiently large schedule and with enough days to see the proposals for housing solutions that we are looking for.” The minister also recalled in statements to Cadena Ser that he was immersed in the negotiations of the Toledo Pact and the ERTE. From the point of view of magistrate Díaz Tejera, the debates on Escrivá’s presence in the Canary Islands are “a waste of time.” “There is nothing to see here, it is about giving orders,” he concluded on a visit to Arguineguín.
The concept “call effect”, coined by the Popular Party to blame the rebound in the arrival of boats in Spain in 2005 on the management of former president José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (PSOE), has reappeared. In this case, it has been used by the Government delegate in the Canary Islands, Anselmo Pestana. According to statements offered to the COPE chain, at present this “call effect” has been produced by the non-return of immigrants, who cannot be expelled to the issuing countries because the borders with them remain closed to stop the expansion of COVID -19. Previously, he had indicated that the referrals to the Peninsula to alleviate the reception system in the Canary Islands, as proposed by NGOs and some political parties, would mean that “instead of 3,000 arriving, 30,000 will arrive.”
In this context of crisis, the regional government has also asked Europe for help. Ángel Víctor Torres, after the celebration of the Canarian Immigration Forum, insisted that the phenomenon of immigration cannot “begin and end in the Canary Islands”, because otherwise, “the idea of the European Union would have failed.” Especially, because most of the migrants who set foot on the Islands do not want to stay there, but rather to move towards the mainland. However, Arcadio Díaz Tejera proposed that the situation be solved mainly with national and local actions, beyond European policies. “The EU projects so that there are more and more Frontex agents and the idea of locking up people, except those who may be asylum seekers, are worrying me,” said the Barranco Seco control judge.
Concern about a possible “pandemic of racism” that follows the one caused by COVID-19 has forced specialized agents to launch awareness-raising messages appealing to the solidarity of the Canarian people, who were also immigrants. Some events have put the Archipelago on alert. The first, the barricades organized in Tunte, the administrative capital of the tourist city of Maspalomas, to prevent the displacement of immigrants to a reception center. Neighbors claimed that they were only afraid that “they would bring the virus to the town”, although all the people referred had tested negative for the disease. The next one also took place in Gran Canaria, where an emergency center for unaccompanied foreign children was attacked with stones.
The lack of available reception resources has forced the Government Delegation to relocate immigrants who had spent more than five nights on the Arguineguín dock in empty extra-hotel complexes. A decision criticized by politicians and businessmen. “It is not the ideal place,” said the mayor of San Bartolomé de Tirajana, Concepción Narváez (PSOE). For its part, the hotel management of Fuerteventura described this as an “aberration”.
Similarities to the 2006 cayuco crisis
The main precedent for this crisis dates back to 2006, with the so-called cayuco crisis, when more than 36,000 people arrived in the Islands in one year. To assist them, warehouses, police stations, sports centers, camps or airports were activated as reception spaces. This stage also led to episodes such as that of the then mayor of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, José Manuel Soria, giving orders to expel two hundred migrants who spent nights sleeping in the Santa Catalina park. Soria intended to send them to Madrid on an Iberia night flight without coordinating with the authorities of the Spanish capital. Thirteen years later, this same park in the capital of Gran Canaria once again welcomed 40 migrants, who after 72 hours in the police station so that the National Police could proceed to their affiliation, were left to their fate due to a coordination failure between competent authorities.
In the political context, statements made during the cayuco crisis have also been reproduced. The then Minister of the Presidency and Justice José Miguel Ruano (Canary Coalition) came to assure that there were mother ships that launched cayucos when they were ten miles from the Canary coast. “Barbarities that never happened,” said José Segura, director of Casa África and former delegate of the Government, in an interview offered to Canary Islands Now. Last March, the Deputy of the Canary Coalition in the Congress of Deputies, Ana Oramas, endorsed these statements. Without providing any proof, the one who was mayor of La Laguna in 2006, asked: “Where are the patrol boats preventing the mother ships from deploying dozens of cayucos that arrive in the Canary Islands in perfect condition?” “There is no evidence of the use of these ships,” denied the Interior Ministry. “It is a route in which not only the arrivals are monitored, but the prevention activity also occurs at the exit,” specified the department headed by Fernando Grande-Marlaska.