Cayucos and pateras in the Canaries: patera escorted to Los Cristianos as regional Government confirms second tent city for Canaries will be set up in Tenerife

Photo: Puertos de Tenerife

Updated 5pm, 25/11: It won’t only be Gran Canaria with a tent city. As well as that island’s encampment for migrants in Barranco Seco, Tenerife too will have one, it has now been announced. The reception centre will be set up in Las Raices, in an old military zone near La Esperanza,

Updated 4pm, 25/11: A dreadful night last night for Lanzarote and Gran Canaria, and today, Tenerife has itself received a patera with 48 on board. The craft with 48 on board was brought into Los Cristianos this morning by the Coastguard after it was spotted some 3m south of Tenerife. All of the occupants, four thought to be children, are said to be in good health.

Updated 25 November: Emergency services have confirmed this morning that last night’s rescue involved the Coastguard and Guardia Civil in assisting over 300 migrants located in 11 boats off Lanzarote. The occupants of one of those craft were taken to Arrecife and the rest to Arguineguín where they will presumably be taken to the tent city in Barranco Seco. Canarian health system medics and Cruz Roja assisted those who needed medical help and transferred six to local health centres but confirmed the death of one of one poor soul whose passing brought the tally to eight dead. A tragic, tortuous, torrid night for Lanzarote.  

Updated 24 November: The political temperature will not be cooled by a tragedy that has unfolded this evening off north Lanzarote. A patera overturned and the sad result as of 10.30pm is that four have died, 27 have survived, all men who say that on board there had also been women and children. Emergency services are still searching in heartbreaking scenes.

Updated 8pm, 22/11: A second patera today has arrived in Los Cristianos this evening. Emergency services say that the craft, with 28 on board, was towed into the harbour by the Coastguard. The occupants comprised twelve women, eleven men, and five children, all in good health.   

Updated 22 November: A boat carrying 78 migrants was intercepted some five miles south of Palm Mar last night. The craft was escorted to Los Cristianos where all occupants were found to be in good health.  

Meanwhile, the Canarian Government is continuing its calls for assistance in the face of the national Government’s refusal to allow mass transfer of migrants to the mainland but we are, it seems, to remain a pressure point for political reasons, understandable reasons but reasons that infuriate the regional authorities nonetheless. As Spanish Deputy PM Carmen Calvo has said, Spain already has agreements in place with some countries to return any migrants coming from them, and the national Government will not allow the people trafficking mafias to learn that the Canaries are a way into Europe. This is a problem for Europe, not just Spain, she said.  

Updated 20 November: As we knew, Spanish ministro del Interior Marlaska was visiting Morocco today to talk about the migration situation in the Canaries. He has completely ruled out a mass transfer of migrants to the mainland from the Canaries, something he was almost bound to do to avoid seeming to give carte blanche to Morocco’s lack of policing of its waters. The problem has to be seen to be growing here simply to create the pressure needed, it appears, with Marlaska saying that the whole issue was one of “migratory politics, which are a matter for the EU and not just Spain”.

Meanwhile the Canaries are apparently to remain as a holding zone, the situation in which the authorities never wanted to find themselves and which they resisted as far as possible. The Canarian Government won’t like it but Spain’s stance, as argued by Marlaska in Rabat, is that the problem needs to be fought at source, with the boats stopped from entering any part of Europe rather than resolved by shuffling the situation within the bloc. That’s a stance that Morocco won’t like either. There are no winners in this, only losers, and right now the Canaries are at the sharp end of the problem.

Updated 4pm, 19/11: However much the authorities don’t want any part of these islands to come to resemble the Moria camp in Lesbos or Sangatte in France, the reality is that there is now a tent city in the Canaries, in the old polvorín in Barranco Seco in Gran Canaria. It has a capacity of 800 places but I don’t think there are now too many who expect that capacity not to be exceeded, and quite quickly.

This evening, 200 more migrants will be headed there, and national and regional politicians find themselves in a quandary, simultaneously playing a blame game and a pass the parcel one with human beings. And with Morocco seemingly feeling it holds many of the cards ahead of tomorrow’s meeting with Spanish Home Secretary Marlaska, his own department, the Ministro del Interior, has announced rhat the Policía Nacional complement in the islands will be increased by two groups from the Unidad de Intervención Policial (Police Intervention Unit).

Updated 19 November: For want of anywhere in the north to house them, around 20 of the group of migrants which arrived in Santa Cruz from Gran Canaria yesterday spent the night at the harbour having refused to be brought south with the others to be accommodated in a hotel kitted out for immigration purposes by the Canarian Government and Cruz Roja. All, however, say that they want to go to the mainland. The authorities here will second that wish. For the moment, however, there seems to be no clarity to the situation nor how it is supposed to develop from here but Marlaska, the national Ministro del Interior (Home Secretary) who is under fire at the moment, is heading to Morocco tomorrow, it appears, and it’s not difficult to imagine the nature or heat of the talks in which he is likely to be engaged with his opposite number there.

Updated 10pm, 18/11: It doesn’t get any easier. Tonight, around 200 migrants who arrived in Gran Canaria on pateras in recent days tried to leave Santa Cruz to sail to Huelva on the mainland. How they got to Santa Cruz is at present unclear, but they were of course not able to board the ship because they didn’t have any proper documentation. Now Tenerife’s capital city’s mayor Bermúdez is spitting fire that the migrants had come from Gran Canaria by some means, and without the documentation that prevented them getting on the ferry in Santa Cruz, and that he has to sort out their accommodation with no advance warning of any sort from any authority, and no available places for them. He complained that the lack of information, commitment and responsibility of both the regional and national Government is “serious and ongoing” in a situation he described as “absolutely unacceptable”.  

Updated 2pm, 18/11: I said yesterday that the army had been required to build a tent camp for migrants away from the port, and that is now housing 2,301 migrants who had been in the harbour, as well as the 227 who left the harbour last night under unclear circumstances. The tent city is in the old polvorín in Barranco Seco in Gran Canaria, an instalation that used to be an explosives base. Maybe that was why the former mayor of Tenerife’s La Laguna, Ana Oramas has said that these islands as a whole were now a polvorín – for obvious reasons the word has come to have the common meaning of powder keg.

Oramas also called on the national Interior Minister to resign but he has already rejected that idea though he has committed to investigating the incident. Pressure is building, that is clear, and if we and especially Gran Canaria don’t get a solution soon, there is likely to be a real explosion of one sort or another. And whether they want it to be another Sangatte or Moría or not, the Canaries has a tent city – here is the new Centro de Atención Temporal a Extranjeros (CATE) in Barranco Seco, Gran Canaria.

Photo: Gobierno de Canarias

Updated 18 November: This has a fair capacity for creating a diplomatic incident so let’s hope it doesn’t! Overnight the blame game has been played from all quarters, with the police mainly getting it in the neck for “facilitating” the departure of 227 migrants from Arguineguín harbour. Everyone is expressing outrage at the police’s behaviour while the police themselves are keeping tight lipped about whose orders they were actually following.

In the end, the migrants were not admitted to the Moroccan Consulate but started to hang around the plaza outside with no shelter: this for migrants is counter to international law which decrees housing and medical support for anyone claiming asylum until their claims are proven or rejected. They are, police say, supposed to be processed at entry points like harbours within a set time which, in this and many other cases, is exceeded … and that itself breaks international law. But with so many arrivals, there is no solution that is legal, so heads need to be scratched in earnest … and meanwhile the police act according to the law and according to instructions from somewhere unknown.

The Canarian authorities are calling for Fernando Grande-Marlaska Gómez, the Spanish Ministro del Interior (Home Secretary), to go. He has refused to resign but no doubt would prefer right now not to have immigration as part of his brief. Others, however, suspect that orders came from within the Canaries to increase political pressure on the national Government to find a solution to release the physical pressure on Canarian infrastructure.

Meanwhile the migrants were returned to Maspalomas in the south of Gran Canaria last night and have been accommodated in tourist accommodation currently not in use.

Updated 5.30pm, 17/11: The Gran Canarian authorities’ head scratching seems to have come up with a solution, at least temporarily. As we well know, Gran Canaria at present has received the overwhelming majority of migrants intercepted in these waters, and has dismantled the large tents at Arguineguín harbour in an attempt to focus attention on the conditions there. In its refusal to become the new Sangatte or Moría, the authorities had the army create a tent camp for the arrivals away from the port but today seems to have pushed them to a new determination not to become 2020’s Lampedusa.

The authorities have become convinced that the problem right now is one of Morocco not policing the sea ways as they used to when the Canaries route was active in the early 2000s. That situation did improve through diplomatic means and, it must be admitted, financial ones: essentially Morocco was paid to police its own coast and seas, and so in conjunction with the EU and Spain, the situation was so controlled that the route was impractical for the traffickers and they switched to the Mediterranean crossing with the effect we’ve seen worsen over the last decade.

Now, however, Morocco seems to be agitating for extra mining rights in waters beyond its own, in particular they want to explore for minerals as well as oil, and there is great suspicion that they are determinedly not policing their waters at all right now in order to pressure Spain for more maritime concessions when their urgent policing is needed of the shift back to the Canaries of the traffickers’ migratory route. Whether or not this is the case, this is what the authorities are beginning to believe is the case, and with this no doubt in mind, the Gran Canarian authorities’ have today focused rather specifically on what they perceive to be the root of the problem.

And so around 200 of today’s arrivals have been removed from Arguineguin harbour on the grounds that they’d been left high and dry on the roadside, no food nor help. They were officially transferred to Gran Canaria’s capital Las Palmas … and deposited at the Moroccan Consulate …

Updated 17 November: patera with 32 on board including seven children was intercepted this morning off the Granadilla coast at Montaña Roja. All are said to have been in good health. Also off our coasts this morning, six other pateras were interepted with a total of 584 migrants on board including one woman and ten children, all were taken to Arguineguín harbour in Gran Canaria where one of the men needed to be taken to hospital, and where the authorities are beside themselves in knowing how to cope.  

Updated 14 November: A patera with 26 on board was intercepted around 8.30am today by the Coastguard just south of Palm Mar. The craft was escorted into Los Cristianos by a Guardia Civil launch where its occupants, 14 men, 11 women, and 1 child, were found to be in good health. Their vessel was one of 14 found off the Canarian coasts last night carring 320 in all: the others were taken to Fuerteventura and, as usual for most of the arrivals, Gran Canaria.

Updated 13 November: A cayuco with 25 on board was brought into Los Cristianos this morning, emergency services say, with none needing hospital attention.    

Updated 12 November: A cayuco with 90 on board has arrived at Los Cristianos after being spotted some 10 miles south of Palm Mar. Emergency services say that six of those on board have been taken to hospital for dehydration and slight injuries. The craft was one of six today to these islands carrying 281 migrants, twelve of whom have needed hospital attention.

Updated 11pm, 10/11: A second craft today arrived at Los Cristianos this evening after being picked up south of the island. Emergency Services say that of the 129 on board the cayuco, one needed to be transferred to a medical centre with abdominal pain but the rest were in good condition.

Updated 10 November: A patera with 91 occupants, of whom three were  women and 22 thought to be children, was intercepted around 7am this morning 7 miles south of Palm Mar. Emergency services say that it was escorted to Los Cristianos where those on board were attended by medical personnel. All are said to have been in good health.

Updated 11pm, 7/11: It has been a very tough day today in the Canaries and the final figures have been confirmed by the 112 control room as 1,096 arrivals on 20 boats: 643 in Gran Canaria, 271 in Tenerife, 159 in El Hierro, and 23 in La Gomera. Among them one had lost their life, and several others have needed medical attention but none very seriously so. The logistical problems do not get any easier.

Updated 7 November: Two cayucos spotted around 10km south of Palm Mar around lunchtime have been brought into Los Cristianos this afternoon, each carrying over 100 migrants. They are just two arrivals from 17 boats of hope today that have reached the Canaries carrrying some 900 migrants in all.

Updated 6 November: A patera carrying 118 migrants that was spotted some 6 miles south of Palm Mar was escorted by Coastguard and Guardia Civil into Los Cristianos this morning. Emergency Services say that a dozen or so of the occupants appear to be minors, and that none on board needed to be transferred to medical centres for treatment.

Updated 8pm, 5/11: A patera with 122 on board has been escorted into Los Cristianos this afternoon. Emergency services say that just one needed to be transferred to a medical centre for treatment.

Updated 5 November: People often ask what happens to these migrants, and as I’ve said they are processed for asylum claims, paperwork checked, places of origin verified if possible … and those whose claims for refugee status are approved are allowed to start to integrate into society, those who are refused are returned to their original homes. In this respect, the Spanish Interior Ministry (like the UK Home Office) has confirmed today that flights will resume next Tuesday 10 November to Mauritania to deport migrants with irregular status (those without genuine asylum claims). The repatriation flights have been halted for most of this year because of the covid outbreak but have now been approved to restart: the first flight from here will be a stopover from Madrid with migrants on board, and it will collect those to be returned from here too.

Updated 4 November: A cayuco carrying 72 including ten or so children was picked up six miles south of Tenerife earlier this morning. Emergency services say that one of the occupants had died before reaching land and five others have been transferred to hospital in serious conditions including hypothermia, hypoglycemia, and one with a hand injury.  

Updated 3 November: A patera with arrived under its own steam around 11am this morning at Las Galletas harbour. Emergency services say that there were 17 on board, including some children, and one of the occupants of the craft needed to be transferred to Candelaria Hospital with hypoglycemia. As with all other craft, the healthy occupants are in police custody with their paperwork and/or claims for asylum being processed within the established legal framework.

Updated 2 November: Three cayucos and one patera with some 280 on board in total have been located south of the Canaries today. One with 57 on board was spotted just after lunchtime near La Tejita in El Médano while the other two arrived at Gran Canaria – one with 100 or so on board and the other with 68, one of whom had died. The La Tejita cayuco was escorted to Los Cristianos by the Coastguard and none have needed to be taken to medical centres for severe conditions.

Updated 31 October: The first cayuco to arrive for a few days arrived at Los Cristianos this morning after being spotted off the El Médano coast around 6am (photo above). There had been at least 82 on board including 3 women and 4 children, but one occupant died before reaching dry land. Various others were in dire need of medical assistance and the 112 Control Room says that two adults and one of the children had been transferred so far to a medical centre suffering from dehydration and burns (unclarified, possibly from a motor or small fire, or from sun or salt).

Original post 28 October: It’s nearly 15 years or so since I last had a post with this title, and 2006 was a big year for arrivals of what I call boats of hope, the cayucos (large) and pateras (smaller) that bring migrants from Africa to the Canaries. They come from various countries, often trafficked by people who charge thousands for their “services”. The payment is often gathered with enormous difficulty by family left behind, or provided as a “loan” to be repaid from wages sent back from the hoped-for new life; if this money doesn’t materialise then the migrant is in serious difficulty, often physically so, and the family has to deal with even worse poverty and danger in the migrant’s original home.

These people traffickers are not philanthropists but gangsters who use routes until they’re closed down. The respite these islands have experienced since 2006 is the result of the policing of the sea route forcing a switch to one from north Africa across the Mediterranean, particularly to Italy’s Lampedusa, a small island near Malta that’s actually part of Sicily politically. Now that that route’s policed, and with huge political tension about Mediterranean crossings generally, and with the land route through the Balkans now worse than nightmarish, the Canarian route is clearly back in fashion.

These crossings aren’t going to stop by one route or another. While global inequality is such as it is, the poor, disadvantaged, and exploited will try to get their fair share of planetary wealth. People complain about the effect on the economy or their holiday but to the desperate people in these boats the very idea of an economy or a holiday is as distant as Kim Kardashian is from ordinary people, she enjoying her birthday amidst a pandemic by hiring a private island for her innermost circle and playing at “pretending life’s normal” while real normal people are visiting foodbanks or wondering how to pay the bills at the end of the month.

So, these boats cause problems, obviously. Naturally they are an inconvenience, no-one denies they cause logistical problems in housing and security, everyone accepts they are “bad for our image” … but taking the covid pandemic as an example, we have to accept that there are times when natural catastrophes overtake our personal lives. For those who don’t “believe” in covid, we can take a Teide eruption as an example … assuming the volcano’s not dismissed as a hoax too. Such disastrous events cause inconvenience, logistical problems, and are bad for our image, but are accepted as inevitable. This is no different while economic and political solutions fail to be adopted, and trying to stop the migrations is like trying to stop a tidal wave with a sieve. One day the route will switch again, but until then I’ll keep track of the arrivals at Tenerife and some of the more newsworthy arrivals at the other islands in this thread.

So far in 2020, then, the Canaries have received just over 11,000 migrants compared with 2006 when just over 30,000 arrived. Some 5,000 of this year’s arrivals have reached here this month alone. Canarian President Ángel Torres is calling for “immediate help” from the national Government for the overcrowded emergency accommodation hastily equipped at Arguineguín harbour in Gran Canaria, the point presently under most pressure in these islands. Here in Tenerife, all official accommodation is full and the human overflow is now being housed in hotels, apartment complexes, including in the south, under arrangements made in coordination between local authorities, island Cabildos and the regional Government. Nonetheless, today is the first day in a month that we don’t have any arrivals. So far.

1 Comment

  1. I am confused. How on earth did 200 people get from Gran Canaria to Tenerife with no paperwork? Who transported them? 200 is not exactly a small number. Someone with some “clout” is organising all this to put pressure on the authorities. Pressure is needed, sure, but these are people, not pawns on a chess board to be shifted about in this way, no matter how desperate the situation is with the number of arriving migrants

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