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Spain rejects sending migrants from islands to mainland

Canary Islands have seen a tenfold increase in migrants from last year, with around 17,000 arrivals

Alyssa McMurtry   | 20.11.2020
Spain rejects sending migrants from islands to mainland

OVIEDO, Spain 

Spain will not transfer irregular migrants arriving in the Canary Islands to the Spanish mainland, the country’s interior minister said Friday.

"We cannot allow establishment of new irregular migration routes to Europe. Migration policy affects the entire European Union and not just Spain," Fernando Grande-Marlaska told media in Morocco, explaining as to why the government is resisting calls to move recent arrivals off the islands, where migrant centers and infrastructure have become overwhelmed.

Marlaska traveled to meet his Moroccan counterpart Abdelouafi Laftit, hoping to boost cooperation around the Atlantic migratory route, which originates in Morocco and the Western Sahara -- a region that has seen increasing political tensions.

The Spanish minister asked the Moroccan government to increase its control on migrant flows and share more information related to criminal organizations and human trafficking, according to a statement from Spain’s Interior Ministry.

When asked by the media, Marlaska did not confirm whether a bilateral agreement had been reached.

Nearly 17,000 migrants have landed on the Canary Islands in small, undocumented ships this year. That’s up more than tenfold compared to 2019.

Spanish authorities have been holding thousands of people on a pier in Gran Canaria for days. Local media and activists report the migrants are sleeping on the ground and lack access to sanitary conditions or legal resources.

This week, hundreds were transferred to a new military camp while others were moved to empty hotels, but the flow of new arrivals continues.

In recent days, dozens of people were ferried from the Gran Canaria pier to a nearby island, where authorities said they would be able to take a ferry to mainland Spain. Yet, most were denied the trip because they didn't have passports, even after having purchased the tickets.

Also this week, Spanish authorities transferred around 220 people from the pier to the island’s capital city by bus. They were dropped off downtown with nothing to eat and nowhere to sleep.

On Friday, Spain's minister of migration and social security also announced the government will “soon” be setting up 7,000 beds for migrants on the Canary Islands.

The Canary Islands, the government warns, could become the next Lesbos, Lampedusa or a prison for migrants if the rest of the country does not help relieve the influx of migrants.​​​​​​​

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