Since the beginning of the year, over 32,000 people from West Africa have reached the Canary Islands. According to the Spanish Interior Ministry, more than half of them come from Gambia and Senegal. More boats reach the coast almost every day. The authorities of the Canary Islands are asking the Spanish government and the European Union for help.
The Senegalese Navy was patrolling the waters of the Atlantic when it suddenly noticed a small object moving at a relatively high speed on radar. It was an old wooden boat. There were over 150 people on board – including women and children who wanted to reach Europe. – It’s hard for me that they detained us. My mother sells spices at the market. I’m an adult and I can’t give her a better life. That’s the only reason I wanted to get to Europe, says Mbaye Ndaw, an immigrant from West Africa.
Lack of work, rising costs of living and social unrest – these are just a few reasons why thousands of people are fleeing, among others, Senegal. Smugglers take advantage of this by stuffing immigrants onto old fishing boats. The Senegalese pay the equivalent of about five hundred dollars for the crossing. The journey from Senegal to the Canary Islands takes about a week. The immigrants have to cover about 1,600 kilometers. – The water is rough. These are not good conditions for these simple, flat-bottomed boats. Our vessel is rocking quite a bit, let alone a boat full of people. This is a risky and very dangerous crossing, explains Diallo, Senegalese Navy.
Almost every day, more overcrowded boats arrive at the coast of the Canary Islands. Last weekend alone, the Spanish Coast Guard rescued several hundred people. This year, over 32,000 immigrants from West Africa have already arrived on the islands. This is twice as much as a year ago and the highest number in 17 years. “These numbers show the humanitarian crisis facing the Canary Islands. More immigrants have arrived here than in 2006, but the response of the authorities and Spain and the EU is not the same. Immigration management should be a priority on the agenda of Spain and all of Europe,” he wrote on social media, the president of the Canary Islands, Fernando Clavijo.
A global problem
Immigration centers in the Canary Islands are overcrowded, so some of the arrivals have been distributed to other parts of the country. The Spanish government said it would create additional accommodation in military barracks, hotels and shelters for about 3,000 migrants. – It’s really bad. We are overloaded. Some people work 14-15 hours a day, 13-14 days without rest, says Jose Luis Gallardo Ruiz, secretary of the Trade Union of Policemen in Spain.
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In order to stop the influx of immigrants, Spain is cooperating with the Senegalese authorities. The government in Madrid has handed over six new drones to Senegal. It also plans to increase the presence of officers monitoring the country’s coast and fighting smugglers. Spanish authorities say joint efforts have prevented more than seven thousand people from leaving Senegal this year. – We need to make immigration a challenge, not a problem. Are we fighting immigration or its causes? Cooperation between Spain and Senegal is of fundamental importance, argues Fernando Grande-Marlaska, Spain’s Minister of Interior. The route to the Canary Islands is one of the deadliest migration routes in the world. According to the Walking Borders organization, 778 immigrants lost their lives in the first half of 2023, when much fewer people tried to reach Europe by sea.
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Main photo source: Reuters