Spain to tighten security around Canary Islands after rush of migrants

·2 min read

GRAN CANARIA, Spain (Reuters) - Spain will expand naval patrols around the Canary Islands and set up more migrant centres in response to a surge of arrivals from Africa, including more than 2,000 people last weekend, the regional policy minister said on Friday.

Security forces will add at least three ocean-going vessels, a plane, a helicopter and a submarine to the existing fleet policing the waters between Africa's west coast and the Spanish archipelago, Carolina Darias told a news conference in Gran Canaria.

Almost 16,000 people have reached the Canary Islands after braving the Atlantic in the dangerous crossing from Africa this year - more than 10 times last year's total - including 2,213 last weekend.

"The main objective of this government, and of any government, is to avoid anybody risking their life getting aboard one of these boats," Darias said.

Deepening economic hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic is pushing more people to seek better lives elsewhere, but tighter security on the Mediterranean means more migrants are attempting the Atlantic crossing, with many perishing along the way.

Some 140 people died en route after their boat caught fire and capsized off the coast of Senegal last month.

In parallel, Madrid will increase diplomatic efforts across West Africa and particularly in Morocco, the departure point for most of the Europe-bound boats, to curb the number of departures.

With reception centres across the islands stretched to capacity, nearly 2,000 people have been stranded at Gran Canaria's Arguineguin port in conditions that an immigration judge described on Thursday as "inhumane and degrading."

"You can't stack 1,980 people in 400 squared meters, firstly because they are not cattle, secondly they are human beings and in third place because there are no sanitary conditions to treat them properly," said Arcadio Diaz Tejera, who ensures that migrants interned at the Las Palmas immigration centre receive proper legal representation.

Minister Darias said local authorities were already working to clear the dockside, while a camp set up at a former military warehouse would soon be able to house up to 800 people.

Several other military sites will soon be converted into migrant centres, she added, without saying how many people they would be able to accommodate.

(Reporting by Borja Suarez, Writing by Nathan Allen, Editing by Inti Landauro and Raissa Kasolowsky)