More people have died during their attempts to reach Spanish soil, including the loss of lives along the Atlantic Route and in Ceuta. Following new inspections on the Canary Islands, the Spanish Ombudsman ordered the closure of a substandard quarantine site in Fuerteventura and called for the referral of unaccompanied children from the Canary Islands. 153 people have been deported within two months while the Spanish government opposes a recent court order on the expiry of return orders.

On 26 April, an Airforce plane spotted a boat drifting 490 km south of El Hierro. It carried 24 lifeless bodies, including children, as well as two men and one woman that were alive but had hypothermia and suffered from dehydration. While the survivors were evacuated by helicopter and hospitalised in Tenerife, a coastguard vessel towed the deceased to Tenerife where it arrived on Wednesday. They had been at sea for 22 days, a survivor said. At least 280 people have disappeared on the Atlantic Route within the past month according to Helena Maleno Garzón, head of the NGO Caminando Fronteras. The Missing Migrants Project, run by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), recorded 70 deaths along the Atlantic Route this year as of 23 April. More deaths were recorded in Ceuta when more than 100 people tried to swim to the Spanish enclave last weekend. At least one person drowned during such an attempt on 24 April.

In reaction to a complaint by Francisco Fernández Marugán, the Spanish Ombudsman, the Secretary of State for Migration, Jesús Javier Perea, ordered the closure of a quarantine facility in Fuerteventura. Staff members of the Ombudsman office had again visited the Canary Islands from 11 to 17 April and inspected different hosting facilities in Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, El Hierro and Tenerife. The visit followed previous inspections last November. As a first step, 22 women and three children, including a baby, were transferred from the site on 24 April. The provision of accommodation in a hotel for some of those undergoing quarantine was met with critique by Sergio Lloret, President of the island’s government. He said: “the recovery of the tourism sector is at stake and with it, to a large extent, that of the island’s economy”. According to the Spanish Ministry of Health, the hotel is only used for the period of mandatory COVID-19 quarantining. The site that was previously used for this purpose has in recent days accommodated 228 people, including newly arrived people and people placed in quarantine after a COVID-19 outbreak at El Matorral camp.

During a speech in the Palace of the Senate on 27 April, the Ombudsman stressed that the situation of unaccompanied children in the Canary Islands is of particular concern and called on the responsible bodies “to urgently agree on the solidarity distribution of these minors throughout the territory”. 2,776 unaccompanied children have arrived in the Canary Islands during last year and the first months of 2021 and more than 2,000 are still waiting for their age assessment. In light of the backlog of pending cases, the Ombudsman called for a reform of the age assessment procedure. Further, he repeated his call for ending restrictions on the free movement of migrants, recalling that “the Supreme Court and several rulings of Canary Courts have ordered the Ministry of the Interior to cease this practice”. Despite court orders that migrants can travel from the Canary Islands to the peninsula with their passport or asylum claim, people continue to be prevented from leaving the archipelago. Meanwhile 153 people were deported from the Canary Islands to their countries of origin in January and February, an answer to a parliamentary question has revealed. Opposing a court order on ending the practice of detaining people based on return orders issued when they arrived, the Spanish government highlighted that these orders have a validity of two years – and not 72-hours as according to the court.

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Photo: (CC) Gary Leavens, September 2013

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.