Spain is trying to manage the flow of migrants to its Canary Islands from West Africa by opening a second detention camp.
The creation of a temporary migrant processing center on the island of Gran Canaria follows growing criticism from local authorities and human rights groups.
Officials on the ground say they cannot adequately deal with the thousands of migrants who have arrived by boat in recent weeks.
Spain’s Interior Ministry said authorities had eased pressure on a makeshift shelter overrun by nearly 2,300 migrants on the island’s southwest coast by moving around 200 of its occupants to a second camp set up on land provided by the army.
A jetty on the peaceful southwest coast of Gran Canaria has become the center of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Spain. Thousands of migrants who survived the perilous journey in fragile wooden or rubber boats are kept on the Arguineguín pier for days. With the facility originally planned to house 400 people in Red Cross tents, many slept on concrete and spent hours in the sun.
Officially, police can detain migrants who arrive without permission for 72 hours, unless they need to be held longer to complete quarantine for a positive COVID-19 test.
City officials said 79 of those currently detained at the jetty had tested positive for the virus.
Aid groups, however, said various migrants they interviewed said they spent more than three days at the pier.
The new camp which will open on Wednesday will accommodate 800 people in tents, according to the Interior Ministry. It was installed in a disused military ammunition depot in Barranco Seco. New arrivals, the ministry said, can be taken directly to the new camp instead of being held up on the dock if necessary.
The relief at the pier comes a day after 197 migrants were released from it with no arrangements being made to house or feed them. This has created confusion among migrants and residents.
Spain’s Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said his ministry was investigating what was wrong with the release of nearly 200 people with no place to go.
But Grande-Marlaska defended her government, saying migrant arrivals fell by 50% from 2018 to 2019, in part thanks to agreements Spain and the European Union have made with Morocco and other countries. The minister is expected to travel to Morocco for another meeting with his government on Friday. Flights to repatriate some migrants have also started.
“We see the migrants arriving, but not those whom we have prevented from coming and putting their lives in danger by putting them in the hands of mafias” of human trafficking, said Grande-Marlaska.
With at least 493 deaths recorded so far this year, the route to the Canary Islands has seen proportionately more deaths for each arrival than the trip to the central Mediterranean from Libya to Italy or Malta.