In Canary Islands, Tensions Are High Over African Migration The Spanish islands saw a big increase last year of people trying to migrate to Europe by boat. After sheltering many of them in hotels, the authorities have set up camps and stepped up deportations.

In Canary Islands, Tensions Are High Over African Migration

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A record number of African migrants are trying to find their way to Spain, but they're first ending up in the Canary Islands more than a thousand miles away. Last year, 23,000 people arrived on boats - eight times more than in 2019. Sophie Eastaugh reports from Gran Canaria.

UNIDENTIFIED VOLUNTEER: (Non-English language spoken).

SOPHIE EASTAUGH, BYLINE: In a sunlit courtyard in Las Palmas, volunteers at a church soup kitchen are handing out lunch bags and cups of fruit juice.


EASTAUGH: Arcadina Damaso says demand has shot up.

ARCADINA DAMASO: (Through interpreter) Until December, we'd normally serve 50 people. Now we're serving 75, and most of the new people are Senegalese and Moroccan.

YOUNES RIDA: (Non-English language spoken).

EASTAUGH: Younes Rida is getting a meal. He spent three days in an open boat across the Atlantic from Morocco to Gran Canaria. He's desperate to get to mainland Spain, find work and send money home.

RIDA: (Non-English language spoken).

EASTAUGH: Rida was living in one of six new migrant camps on the islands. After demanding to go to the mainland, he says he was kicked out. Now he's homeless. Citing COVID restrictions, Spanish police are stopping migrants from leaving the Canaries for other parts of Spain, even those with valid documents.

ADAY ARBELO: (Through interpreter) We're all afraid. Every day, there's police around here. Every day, there are fights and robberies.

EASTAUGH: Aday Arbelo is also eating at the soup kitchen.

ARBELO: (Through interpreter) It's awful. One day this is going to explode because there's no solution at all. The government promises and promises and nobody helps.

EASTAUGH: Arbelo is a welder, but he's been out of work for years. Unemployment here is around 25%. Arbelo feels like the migrants are getting more help than him.

ARBELO: (Through interpreter) They in the camps, breakfast, lunch and dinner, and us, we're hungry, hungry and ashamed because it can't go on like this.

EASTAUGH: There have been anti-migrant marches and reports that Moroccans have been attacked. Stephan Carlsen is from the Spanish Commission for Refugees.

STEPHAN CARLSEN: People are not working now because there are no tourists here. And now they see all these people arriving, and they maybe get frustrated.

EASTAUGH: Carlsen says the government's decision to keep the migrants on the islands has caused some resentment among locals.

CARLSEN: The main problem is not the migrants arriving but the local authorities and the government. The image they are giving in front of the Canary people that they feel like they abandoned.

EASTAUGH: But many Canarians support the migrants and are trying to help.


EASTAUGH: At a hostel, locals are chatting with a group of Senegalese men. Abdulahi Diop is one of them. He spent 10 days on a boat with 117 others crossing a thousand miles of open ocean to get here from Senegal.

ABDULAHI DIOP: (Through interpreter) Life in Senegal is very hard. There's no work or money. We're fishermen and the government has sold the sea to foreign boats, European boats.

EASTAUGH: A new solidarity group is offering food, clothes and legal advice to migrants. They also rented this hostel for Abdulahi and others to live in. Cristina Taisma Cartldrin, a student, has come to offer food and friendship.

CRISTINA TAISMA CARTLDRIN: This country is not only for us. They are people. They have the right to live well in good conditions.

EASTAUGH: The Spanish government has allowed some women and children and asylum-seekers to travel to mainland Spain, but the majority of those who remain here face deportation back to Africa.

For NPR News, I'm Sophie Eastaugh in the Canary Islands.


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