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Humanitarian crisis in Gran Canaria as island pleads for holiday hotels and apartments to house hundreds of illegal migrants 

The Canary Islands are embroiled in a row as hundreds of illegal immigrants continue to arrive in boats on the coasts of popular tourist resorts and holiday accommodation is being used to house them.

Views are split over whether this is the right
way to deal with the ongoing crisis which, on Sunday, saw the latest arrival of
140 migrants in Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and La Graciosa.

These numbers are added to the hundreds who
have been docking on the islands’ shores over recent months, adding a further
complication to the coronavirus crisis and at one stage, bringing the docks in
Gran Canaria to a standstill.

Government subdelegate, Teresa Mayans has
called on the tourism industry to respond to the “humanitarian
crisis” by providing hotels and apartments due to the lack of tourists. At
least six hotels or small apartments in the capital of Las Palmas have been
offered, together with a large infrastructure in Maspalomas. Holiday bungalows
in the popular resort of San Bartolomé de Tirajana in Gran Canaria have already
taken in migrants from last Friday and one hotel in the capital of Las Palmas
reopened its doors for the first time since March to provide accommodation.

Over the last few weeks, there has been a
barrage of boat arrivals which show no sign of stopping, say worried government
officials. Groups such as the Red Cross say they are working hard to provide
shelters but are running out of options.

For one week, around 160 migrants were forced
to sleep under 17 tents and on the ground in the Arguineguín dock, in the heart
of the tourist area, whilst another 140 slept in the premises of a wrestling
club, schools and sports centres. All arrivals, mostly men and of Maghreb and
sub-Saharan origin, have to take coronavirus tests and if positive, are being
put into isolation either in Gran Canaria or on one of the other islands.

The docks are still being used as there are
daily arrivals of boats, with more than 300 over the weekend. At one stage, the
Red Cross prepared plans for a mass camp for 1,000 migrants on land in
Arguineguin but this was scrapped due to local opposition.

Hotel leaders say the offer of holiday
accommodation is only a temporary solution but there has been an avalanche of
criticism, including from local resident, opposition councillors and the mayor
of San Bartolomé de Tirajana, Conchi Narváez who said “tourist beds
shouldn’t be  used for migrants”.

“I am very concerned about the situation
we are experiencing in Gran Canaria with the increase in Covid cases,” she
told leading Spanish newspaper El Dia. “I can understand the decision that
some hoteliers have made in the face of the complicated situation they are
experiencing due to the coronavirus crisis, since they see the accommodation of
immigrants as a way to maintain jobs, and obtain a minimum income in their
businesses . But the tourist areas of San Bartolomé de Tirajana or Mogán, and
their apartment complexes and hotels, are not the space to house
immigrants.”

The mayor of the tourist resort of Mogan,
Onalia Bueno said the Spanish government had to take “strong”
measures on immigration as the Canary Islands “cannot face by itself the
enormous number of boats with migrants on board that are arriving at the
island’s coasts.”

One local businessman said he was offering his
empty tourist accommodation so his company got income and saved the jobs of 72
workers.

The migrants are remaining in their rooms all
the time, since common areas and swimming pools are closed, and they only leave
them to eat, and they do so in an orderly manner through a system of coloured
bracelets. In any case, all have passed the quarantine period and have tested
negative in PCR tests. Government officials say pictures published on the
social network claiming to show migrants having fun in a swimming pool were
false and malicious.

The hope is they  will eventually be
returned to Morocco or be passsed on to the mainland.

President of the Canary Islands, Ángel Víctor
Torres told Canarias Radio on Monday that the State has facilities, among which
he mentioned the military, that it must use for the temporary reception of
irregular immigrants.

He also reiterated that referral to the
peninsula should be facilitated “with visas”, recalling that this is
what the immigrants themselves want.

Regarding the use of tourist accommodation, he
said that it is only acceptable as a “temporary” measure.

The sea journey from Morocco to the Canaries
is about 100 kilometres and is fraught with dangers, leading to the loss of
many lives due to the sea conditions and the bad state of the boats which are
often inflatables and easily capsize.