Spain to move 200 migrants out of overwhelmed Canaries port
Spain was on Wednesday to move 200 migrants into a temporary camp set up by the army to ease conditions at a Canary Islands port overwhelmed by thousands of new arrivals.
The move comes as the archipelago has seen a huge surge in migrant numbers, with more than 16,000 migrants arriving this year, 10 times the figure for the whole of 2019.
The situation has caused chaos at Arguineguin port on Gran Canaria, the main island.
Rights groups say some 2,000 people have been sleeping there for days if not weeks, many in the rough.
During the morning, officials and police were locked in talks about “speeding up the transfer of 200 migrants this afternoon from Arguineguin to the new camp in Barranco Seco”, a government statement said.
Set up by the military in an old weapons dump near Las Palmas, the island’s capital, the camp is made up of 23 tents which can house 200 people, the Spanish army said, posting images on Twitter of bunk-beds inside military-style canvas tents.
Rights groups such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have called for urgent changes at Arguineguin port, saying conditions there were appalling.
Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska earlier this month said the Arguineguin port camp, which was only set up to process arrivals and carry out virus tests, would be closed “in the coming weeks” and the migrants relocated to military sites in Las Palmas.
During the morning meeting, Canaries officials were also seeking “to analyse the events which took place” on Tuesday, when police allowed some 200 migrants to leave Arguineguin port.
They were later bussed to the capital, but with nowhere to go, prompting heavy criticism in parliament Wednesday against the government.
Late Tuesday, the central government’s office in the Canaries said it was “concentrating all its efforts on ensuring that these people have decent accommodation as soon as possible,” saying it was taking “the necessary steps to provide effective responses to this migration crisis”.
– ‘No new Lesbos’ –
On Tuesday, Grande-Marlaska insisted the Canary Islands would not become “a new Lesbos”, the Greek island which has long been one of the main entry points to Europe from the Middle East.
Stepping up diplomatic efforts to slow the ongoing arrival of migrants by sea, Grande-Marlaska will on Friday travel to Morocco, just two days before a weekend visit to Senegal by Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya.
Spain has also pledged to tighten security around the Canary Islands, which lie around 100 kilometres (60 miles) off Morocco’s western coast.
International efforts to tackle the situation also appeared to step up a gear with the arrival on Monday of representatives from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The route from western Africa to the Canaries is notoriously dangerous, but has once again become popular with migrants as authorities have cracked down on other routes to Europe.
On the weekend of November 7-8, more than 2,000 people arrived on the islands, including a record 1,400 on one day.