Recent largest cayuco in a decade followed by another with 129 on board brought into Gran Canaria and a patera with 20 on board still missing in high sea

Updated 23 June: Following on from the post below just five days ago, Italy has now told Spain that it will have to take the next several more rescue boats because they won’t be allowed to come into harbour in Italy itself. How the Spanish or other European authorities will react is unclear but the Canarian Government’s fears that an increasingly hardened stance in Europe will reopen the western route for these refugee boats look increasingly realistic as another cayuco was rescued this morning off Gran Canaria with 129 immigrants on board. The Coastguard is also looking for another vessel, a patera with some 20 on board, which disappeared in high sea near the Canaries nearly a week ago.

Emergency services say that they were called from the cayuco itself around 5.30 this morning requesting help and saying that the craft was near the coast of the Canaries but the occupants did not know exactly where. An SOS was sent out to all ships and the cayuco was eventually located a mile or so off Playa del Inglés and was towed into Arguineguín, where the occupants of the last one were brought after their own craft had been sunk at sea for being unseaworthy. This new arrival has also been met by Cruz Roja who assessed all the occupants of the cayuco as being in good health. They too will now be processed by the authorities.

And meanwhile, the search goes on for the missing patera, and the fears continue that this is the start of a new wave of arrivals on the western route up Africa’s Atlantic coast as the Mediterranean shuts up shop to refugees.

Original post 18 June: Largest cayuco in a decade reaches Canaries as Europe fractures over how to deal with new refugee crisis.

Most readers will have heard of the Aquarius refugees, 629 people including 123 children and 7 pregnant women who were plucked on the point of drowning from the sea off Libya by the Aqarius, a rescue ship operated by the charities SOS Méditerranée and Médecins Sans Frontières. Having been denied permission to dock in the nearest ports of Malta and Italy, the latter having a new anti-immigration Government, the Aquarius has now finally been allowed to reach harbour in Valencia after new Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez gave consent, saying that Spain had a duty to help avert “a humanitarian catastrophe”. The country’s new foreign secretary, Josep Borrell, backed up the decision, calling it a “highly symbolic act intended to jolt Europe out of its ‘ostrich politics’ regarding migration”.

In the past several years we have hardly seen any of the cayucos and pateras that were so common between 2006 and 2008, and indeed since we are not a Mediterranean island we are not likely to see many of the rescue ships that spend their days scouring the north African coast for the tide of human misery risking life and limb for a new life in Europe. They head for southern Europe, but now that Italy and Malta have refused to allow the Aquarius to dock, the fear of the authorities here is palpable that there will be a new upturn of vessels sailing the west African route. That fear was starkly illustrated only yesterday when the largest cayuco for ten years approached these islands bringing 152 people who left Senegal six days ago and had been adrift, without food and water, ever since.

Thankfully they were picked up 410km south of the Canaries by the Talía, a Coastguard patrol vessel, and brought to safety in Arguineguín, Gran Canaria, where they were received and treated by the Cruz Roja. The Coastguard says that it sank the cayuco out at sea because it was in no fit state to be towed to land, and indeed had not been in a fit state to leave Senegal in the first place. Amazingly, despite their ordeal, the rescued occupants of the rickety death trap needed little more than superficial medical attention. They will now go through immigration procedures with the Policía Nacional and will probably be sent to the Foreigners’ Internment Centre in Barranco Seco in Gran Canaria.

The Coastguard has released the following video of the rescue, and there will be many watching the sea with anxiety and hoping that Spain’s gesture does indeed give Europe a jolt, feeling that it cannot be this country which now takes over the role of “holding centre” that Greece and Italy have refused any longer to play.

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