Record numbers of migrants are reaching the Canary Islands in large boats. More than 32,000 people have arrived in southern Morocco and Spanish islands off the coast of Western Sahara this year – more than in the 2006 Spanish migration crisis.
El Hierro’s situation is particularly dramatic. Island owner Elpidio Armas speaks of a humanitarian emergency: “We can’t take so many people.” 12,000 people have already arrived this year, which exceeds the population (11,000). Armas emphasizes this: “Even the baker cannot suddenly make 1000 loaves of bread a day instead of 100.” An old monastery on the 268 sq km island serves as a welcome camp.
As an ARD journalist reports, residents have increasingly come to perceive the influx of refugees as an “invasion”. “The inhabitants of the Canary Islands are desperate and frightened, especially because of their difficult economic situation.”
Smugglers preferred the large islands of Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura, which are close to the African coast. But increased surveillance of maritime borders has pushed this route further into the open sea.
Spain has deployed guard ships and aircraft to Senegal and Mauritania to patrol alongside local forces. Smuggling boats still found in African waters are being turned back.