Overwhelmed Spanish police in the Canary Islands have requested reinforcements from the mainland to help handle a large increase in migrants and refugees arriving from northern Africa in the past few days, forcing the islands to place them in overcrowded makeshift facilities because of coronavirus restrictions.
Over the course of the past weekend alone, small boats have arrived with around 2,000 people and landed on beaches in the Canary Islands, just 62 miles from the Moroccan coast, the Spanish police union JUPOL told Metropolitan Press.
Such numbers have not been recorded in the islands since 2006, and it comes at the worst possible time, with Spain battling a second wave of coronavirus infections which have led to the closure of migrant and refugee arrival centres due to soaring cases.
Real Press spoke to JUPOL police union spokesperson Pablo Perez, who says that police in the Canary Islands have been overwhelmed and have asked the national government for manpower and resources to help secure the safety of both their staff and the migrants.
Perez said authorities on the island have been forced to make do with what little resources they have. This means that between 10 to 20 officers have been tasked with watching over the 2,000 migrants that arrived between 6th and 9th November, and the influx shows no signs of decreasing this week.
A spokesman for the Spanish ‘Maritime Safety and Rescue Society’, a public rescue operation that patrols the straight between Africa and Spain to aid migrants and refugees at risk of drowning, told Real Press that it has rescued a total of 662 people off the coasts of the Canary Islands from Monday to Wednesday.
Mr Perez said the critical situation has led authorities to create makeshift areas where the migrants can stay during the mandatory coronavirus quarantine, or at least until the authorities figure out what to do with them.
The new arrivals are peaceful and cooperating with authorities, he said, adding that local police are worried about how to handle potential unrest if such a situation arises. The police are heavily undermanned with only about 80 percent of the usual workforce currently available due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The police have created a sleeping area in a parking garage for a small group and are using hospital tents in the port of Arguineguin which were given to them by NGOs. The tents are currently housing four times their capacity, with almost 2,000 people in tents meant for anywhere between 400 to 500 people.
The police suspects the rise in the number of arriving boats can be ascribed to two factors: the coronavirus and more favourable weather. Temporary migrant detention centres called CITEs have been closed down due the virus, something Mr Perez said almost certainly has had a ‘calling effect’ on migrants looking to enter Europe, because it means that they will be granted freedom of movement sooner if they cannot be put up in arrival centres.
Spanish authorities are now investigating mafias they think are responsible for the migrations.
As of Wednesday afternoon, it is still unclear whether the Spanish Government or Ministry of Interior intend to strengthen the regional police with fresh resources to help them cope with the situation.
The Canary Islands are home to 25,589 British expats, according to a 2019 study by the National Institute of Statistics (INE) and they consist of eight main islands known for their natural beauty and volcanic landscape.