November 30, 2020

The struggles between ministries perpetuate the ‘prison’ of migrants from the Canary Islands


The Minister of the Interior, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, this Friday came across one of the results of his immigration management in the Canary Islands. An emergency camp set up on the Arguineguín dock with twelve tents and chemical toilets, also known as the dock of shame. On the ground, at least 500 people crowded. A figure that changes daily due to the continuous arrival of boats to Gran Canaria and the frequent transfer of people to empty tourist complexes for their reception. A week earlier, in a corner on the asphalt, Grande-Marlaska would have met Hamza (not his real name). A minor who spent nine days lost in Arguineguín after seeing sixteen people die in his boat. The Police had registered their arrival and their referral to a center, but they were not in any reception facilities for unaccompanied foreign children. According to health sources, the young man himself claimed to have spent two days in a hospital and then was sent back to the port. “He was physically exhausted and his mind was elsewhere,” say the pediatricians who treated him.

70 kilometers away, in the Port of Las Palmas, another consequence of the Spanish strategy against migratory flows: a warehouse without showers that so far houses 59 sub-Saharan migrants for their affiliation by the National Police. The shortage of authorized spaces and late agreements between the Ministries have forced migrants to spend days and sometimes weeks in precarious spaces such as the ship of shame or the Canarian battlefields. Since this migratory route was reactivated in November 2019, the responses from the central government have been asked. The abolition of the Delegate Commission for Migration Affairs has aggravated the lack of coordination between the responsible Ministries, and the lack of collaboration on the part of some local administrations has blocked possible solutions.

Competences in immigration matters are distributed between different departments of the Government of Spain and, in the case of unaccompanied foreign minors, the regional Executive. This distribution makes it difficult to know who should be held accountable for the failures and consequences of the management of migratory flows in the Canary Islands, a region that in recent months has been dubbed “prison islands.” According to El Confidencial, internal sources of the responsible administrations have admitted the “lack of coordination and discrepancies” between them to manage the migratory crisis in the Canary Islands.

The Interior strategy

The Ministry of the Interior has opted for expulsion, taking up deportations to Mauritania and Morocco. Specialized sources have warned that this November 10 a deportation flight will arrive in Nouadhibou from Gran Canaria, after nine months with connections paralyzed by the closure of borders to contain COVID-19. This last week, in addition, the referral of migrants to the Peninsula has been expedited. A flight with 40 people left this Wednesday from Gran Canaria to Madrid. Some migrants consulted by this newspaper have affirmed that they have been transported to the capital and also to Seville. For its part, the Jupol National Police officers union has assured that, in the days prior to the visit of Grande-Marlaska and the European Commissioner Ylva Johansson, up to half a dozen daily flights have been organized to Madrid and Barcelona from “hasty” way to “get them out of the way.” The minister has denied that the Government of Spain “works like this” and assures that the decisions that are taken are “premeditated”.

Unblocking the migratory project of the people who survive the Canarian route has been one of the demands of specialized organizations and even members of the regional government. In 2020, except during confinement, referrals have occurred intermittently. However, the Ministry of the Interior does not offer data on these movements, described by the Government Delegate in the Canary Islands, Anselmo Pestana, as causing a “pull effect”. The area that Grande-Marlaska directs also does not report the expulsions.

Interior, in its bid to strengthen border surveillance, has asked for help from Frontex (European Border and Coast Guard Agency). The Agency has sent seven agents to Gran Canaria to “help” the Police to “control illegal immigration flows and cross-border crimes”, as well as to identify third country nationals. This call for help is reminiscent of the so-called cayuco crisis of 2006. That year Frontex invested 3.2 million euros in the HERA operation. Maritime and air means patrolled the African coast, while a satellite system controlled the Atlantic. The goal: to dissuade migrants from taking this route. The purpose was achieved, and the Islands went from receiving 31,678 people in 2006 to housing 196 in 2010.

Hosting pressure

Before the pandemic, only “immigrants in a situation of vulnerability” passed into spaces set up for humanitarian reception. However, the strategy of retaining migrants in the Archipelago promoted by the Interior and the closure of the CIEs due to the impossibility of expelling them to the countries of origin have increased the pressure on the Ministry of Migration. The Secretary of State for Migration, led by Hanna Jalloul, has been forced to look for new reception spaces.

On some occasions, their proposals have met with the refusal of the municipalities. This is the case of the stoppage of the Temporary Reception Center for migrants set up by the Red Cross in Arinaga and which planned to offer 900 places. The mayor of Agüimes, Óscar Hernández, claims to have found out from the press both the beginning and the end of the works and was against the space being located there for not complying with the habitability conditions. “Obtaining permits to enable a reception space on this site is complex because it is a plot in which residential use is prohibited.”

In Tunte, nucleus of one of the most touristic municipalities in Gran Canaria, San Bartolomé de Tirajana, the migrants encountered barricades organized by neighbors and supported by the mayor, Concepción Narváez, who assured that accommodating migrants in a tourist destination “does not it was the right thing to do. ”

Defense spaces, empty

The incessant arrival of boats found the Islands without a stable network of facilities, 26 years after the arrival of the first dinghy to Fuerteventura. While hundreds of migrants crowd in Arguineguín, the Defense Ministry preserves spaces that have been in disuse for years. It has been this month of November when the department of Margarita Robles has given four spaces in the Canary Islands to house people arriving by sea to the Islands: the Las Canteras barracks, in La Laguna (Tenerife); El Matorral, in Puerto del Rosario (Fuerteventura); the old headquarters of the Canarias 50 Infantry Regiment, in La Isleta (Gran Canaria), and the old Powder Store in Barranco Seco, in Gran Canaria.

Interior has confirmed to this writing that this last establishment will be used to be able to make the police review, thus dismantling the Arguineguín emergency camp, but it does not know if it will cover other areas of competence. For its part, “full control” of the Canarias 50 facilities will correspond to the Ministry of Migration for “their immediate use, without any compensation, to help alleviate the unforeseen immigration needs.”

Separated families

The latest example of confrontation between authorities took place in Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura, where the Las Palmas Prosecutor’s Office ordered the separation of at least eleven families arrived by sea pending DNA tests to confirm their relationship. In the province of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, this practice does not apply. According to Interior, in Spain this should only be done in specific cases in which there are doubts about an alleged relationship between a minor and another person. Meanwhile, the minor remains in charge of the foster care services. The social complaint led the Superior Prosecutor of the Canary Islands, Luis del Río, to issue an instruction that prohibited these separations, authorized only in cases in which external circumstances reveal their need.

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