Spain and Senegal agree to mitigate irregular migration but no immediate agreement on deportation was reached. Morocco has suspended deportation flights allowing Spanish authorities to return up to 80 Moroccans a week from the Canary Islands. Four dead bodies were recovered and 19 people were hospitalised after a rescue operation by the Spanish coast guard about 220 kilometres south of El Hierro on 11 April. While local authorities urge the closure of the notorious camp in Las Raíces on Tenerife that has been the scene of recent clashes, the government delegate in the Canary Islands refuses and reassures tensions will end. Las Palmas judge allows travel from the Canary Islands to the peninsula for asylum applicants. Another, youth drowned trying to reach the Spanish mainland from Melilla and NGOs says hot returns continue from Ceuta following attempt to scale border fence.

Following the launch of a new initiative entitled “Africa Focus 2023” in early April Spain has signed two  memorandums of understanding and a statement with Senegal to strengthen cooperation on migration. While expressing ambitions of encouraging regular migration Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sanchez also underlined the element of prevention measures stating: “We discussed the importance of sending a clear message to traffickers. We need to send a clear message to fight human trafficking and illegal migration”. Reportedly, the visit by the Spanish prime minister to Senegal ended without any concrete agreement on the resumption of deportation flights of Senegalese nationals that have been suspended since 2018. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic Morocco has suspended deportation flights for Moroccan nationals from Spain. An agreement between the two countries in December 2020 has allowed Spanish authorities to forcibly return up to 80 Moroccans from the Canary Islands each week. The Spanish authorities are reportedly working to resume returns as soon as possible but the closure of airspace is expected to be in place at least until 21 May.

A fishing vessel alerted the Tenerife Rescue Centre to a dinghy adrift south of the island of El Hierro on 11 April carrying 23 men that appeared to be in bad shape and with some not moving. The Spanish coast guard conducted a rescue operation using helicopters, a plane and a vessel and found four of the men of sub-Saharan descent had already died with another 19 in need of hospitalisation. The four deaths bring the total loss of life on the route to the Canary Islands to 47 in 2021.

President of the Parliament of the Canary Islands, Gustavo Matos stated that the Las Raíces camp should immediately close and urged a solution from the European Union. However, delegate of the Spanish Government in the Canary Islands, Anselmo Pestana rejects a closure of the camp and assured that tensions will be solved. Another four residents of the camp have been placed in pre-trial detention on charges including public disorder and attack on an authority agent following recent clashes that were met with rubber bullets by police forces. Despite being an adult facility the notorious camp recently found by health inspectors to offer worrying conditions is reportedly housing 50-80 youth that could be minors and the prosecutor of the province of Las Palmas, Teseida García, has publicly acknowledged that the rights of potential minors are being “violated”. ECRE member the Spanish Commission for Refugees (CEAR) and the judge who oversees the Centers for the Internment of Foreigners (CIE) of Gran Canaria, Arcadio Díaz Tejera denounces the use of the COVID-19 pandemic as the pretext for the violation of fundamental rights for asylum seekers and refugees. According to CEAR spokeswoman, Paloma Favieres COVID-19 has been used to erode rights broadly but of particular concern is the emergency camp structures becoming permanent as people should be transferred off the Canary Islands. A judge in Las Palmas in Gran Canaria has ruled that migrants can travel from the Canary Islands to the Peninsula with their passport or asylum claim. The case concerned a man who was arrested along with 21 others when trying to travel to Barcelona on 11 December 2020, and the Senior Police Headquarters of the autonomous community has been ordered to allow his travel. According to local media, dozens of migrants have been prevented from travelling through airports under restrictions imposed by the Ministry of Interior with the COVID-19 pandemic as the pretext.

On 7 April, another dead body was found at the beach of Melilla, the seventh in two months. The young man of Moroccan descent had arrived as an unaccompanied child but was expelled from a child reception centre upon turning 18 in June 2020 after which he was left homeless in destitution.

In the first such attempt in two years a group of people tried to scale the fences in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta on 13 April. The information differs on the size of the group with some sources mentioning between 150 and 250 people gathering at the fences and a group of around 60 attempting to cross with several managing to cross the first section before being stopped by officers of the Spanish Civil Guard and Moroccan security. While police sources state that no one made it into Spanish territory several NGOs report of one or more people handed over to Moroccan police by Spanish authorities in a so-called hot return.  On 13 April, several people attempted to swim to the Spanish enclave Ceuta. They were rescued from the rough sea by the Ceuta Maritime Service.

The Spanish human rights activist, Helena Maleno, who founded the Walking Borders group alerting rescuers of African migrants in distress, was deported from Morocco in January and is now barred from re-entry. According to Maleno who has lived in Morocco with her family for two decades this is simply the latest attempt to silence her by Spanish and Moroccan authorities. She has only recently gone public with her situation and the news has generated strong reactions from civil society.

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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.