The pandemic took tourists from the Canary Islands, but last year more than ten times as many asylum seekers arrived on the islands compared to the previous year.
Soccer game breaks into police shouts on the sandy beach of Puerto Rico on the island of Gran Canaria.
Police are asking young men to split into smaller groups. Team sports are prohibited due to coronavirus restrictions.
Some men still continue to play in a good mood. Others go jogging along the shoreline. Someone sits down on the sun loungers to chat.
Tourists from Britain, Germany and the Nordic countries usually rest in the same chairs. But these men are from Mali and not on vacation. They want asylum in Spain.
“In my home region, we are constantly afraid of the arrival of jihadists,” he says Youssuf Sidibe, 27. He is awaiting the processing of his application at a hotel near the beach in Puerto Rico.
Pandemic has taken tourists from the Canary Islands, and today hotels in the south of Gran Canaria accommodate asylum seekers.
The number of people arriving in the Canary Islands on informal routes has multiplied in a short time. In the second year, there were just over 2,000 of them, last year about 23,000 – of which about 14,000 came here to Gran Canaria.
Sidibe from Mali arrived in early December. He says the voyage from Senegal was broken in seven days. There were 45 other Africans in the long ruined boat, among them only one woman and several minors.
“We already knew at the start of the journey that we would either get there or die. We had good luck, because the sea was quite calm. ”
As his first act on the Spanish Chamber, Sidibe called his mother. He dreams of “any job” in Spain to help his family.
Last in January – October, only 3.4 million international tourists traveled to the Canary Islands, compared with 13 million in the same period last year.
Puerto Rico is part of the municipality of Mogán, for whose hotels accommodation for asylum seekers has become a way to make up for losses in a year of crisis. They live in about ten hotels in the area, and the Spanish government pays.
Mayor of Mogán Onalia Bueno however, has called on hotels to stop accommodating asylum seekers. He believes the region’s reputation suffers in the eyes of tourists.
The Africans moving in groups make the locals nervous, says the hotel worker Miguel González, 55, which has been laid off for nearly a year.
“I think they need to be moved somewhere that isn’t a tourist destination,” González says.
“The Spanish government has left us in the lurch.”
Few even the hosted asylum seekers would like to stay in the Canary Islands.
“I haven’t asked for maintenance,” says the Moroccan Yassine Nouha, 29, which was placed in school accommodation in the city of Las Palmas.
“I have a passport and my intention was to fly to mainland Spain in December, but I heard that we will not be allowed off the island. My friends and acquaintances have been arrested at the airport. I can’t take that risk myself. ”
Nouha studied French literature in Marrakech. He no longer believes he is safe in his home country after having to deal with the police in a student protest.
“The fundamental rights of Spaniards are just an unattainable dream for Moroccans.”
Asylum seekers travel has been restricted since December from both Gran Canaria Airport and the port. Their frustration has grown, and in recent weeks there have been several clashes in the hotels that host them.
According to El País, only 1,800 newcomers had been transferred from the Canary Islands to the rest of Spain by November last year. According to the newspaper, the government does not want to give the impression that the Canary Islands would be an easy route to Spain and the rest of Europe.
The most there are newcomers from Morocco, but also from Mali, Senegal, the Gambia and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. Among those who arrived last year were at least 2,500 unaccompanied minors or young people. In Spain, they are appointed by the Regional Government of the Canary Islands.
The Canary Islands route is the most dangerous route from Africa to European countries, measured in terms of the number of deaths at sea. According to the Red Cross and other aid organizations, at least a thousand people lost their lives on the Canary route last year.
Transport The Canary route accelerated after last summer, when it had stalled on the so-called western Mediterranean route to mainland Spain or the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla off the coast of Morocco.
Morocco tightened its controls in the border region, prompting migrants to try to travel to Spain via the Canary Islands.
The number of immigrants arriving from the sea also declined further last year in Greece. In Italy, it remained at a fraction of the record five years ago, although the number has been rising since the summer, as in the Canary Islands.
Today, Spain is the most popular route for asylum seekers to European countries, and the vast majority there arrive specifically in the Canary Islands.
The situation has reminded the Canaries of 2006, which is remembered here as a migrant crisis. At that time, up to 32,000 immigrants landed on the islands.
Newcomers typically rescued from the high seas and brought to the port of the fishing village of Arguineguín on the south coast of Gran Canaria.
Due to the rapid increase in the number of arrivals, a reception camp was set up in the port of Arguineguín in August, sized for up to 400 people, but accommodating up to 2,700. Due to poor conditions, the Spanish press named it Campamento de la vergüenza, camp of shame.
“In the port of Arguineguín, we had no clean clothes, little water and no washing facilities. We slept in a cold country with a thin blanket, ”says the Moroccan Mohammed Benelfakrounia, 22, who arrived in Gran Canaria after a 50-hour voyage on 9 November, costing around € 2,000.
At the end of November, the Arguineguín port camp was demolished and a new reception center was opened on the outskirts of the city of Las Palmas. It is at the bottom of the Barranco Seco gorge area and its tents have suffered from the harsh weather conditions of the early part of the year.
From the reception center, police possession, visitors are transferred to hotels in the south of the island or to school accommodation on the north shore of Las Palmas.
In mid-January, a new camp was opened on the outskirts of Las Palmas, where some of the hotel residents will be relocated. However, so far only 400 people can be accommodated there, while it is estimated that there will be about 8,000 people to be accommodated on the island. The capacity of the camp is to be increased.
Spanish the police have the right to detain those who have landed on the island for a maximum of 72 hours. During that time, the personal details of entrants will be recorded and they will be tested for coronavirus.
However, many say they have been in police custody for much longer. The Moroccan Benelfakroun says three days have stretched to ten.
During the first three days, migrants should meet with a lawyer assigned to them, but many of those interviewed did not yet know about their lawyer weeks after arrival. Communication with the Spanish police and the Red Cross, which organizes aid, has been hampered by language problems due to a lack of interpreters.
Benelfakroun first got from the reception camp to the hotel and from there to the school accommodation, which is home to about 400 young men, the majority of Moroccans.
“Now things are pretty good. If we are in pain, we can see a nurse, and we have been able to talk to a lawyer. We have food and a bed. ”
Still, Benelfakroun would also like to continue his journey to mainland Spain. There he has relatives who could help find jobs.
Arguineguin near the harbor area is a small ecological restaurant run by an Italian Jessica Calice. He says the atmosphere in the fishing village has changed in a few months.
“I have seen demonstrators marching past the restaurant of the harbor and have heard racist cries. People have spit on buses carrying migrants. I have not seen this Spain before. ”
Calice fears right-wing populists will take full advantage of the situation.
“Spreading fear is an easy way to manage. In reality, there have always been migrants in the world, and Spain has always been an exemplary country for the integration of migrants. Since when has a different skin color become a cause for fear here? ”
Calice strives to delight the passers-by. At times, the restaurant plays African rhythms. Sometimes he just asks passing men if they’re all right – if there’s a common language.
“You can’t believe how they appreciate a happy greeting.”