< Migrants Overwhelm Spain’s Canary Islands
By Dan Novak
16 November 2023

Fifteen-year-old Guinean Moussa Camara is one of a record 32,000 migrants who have arrived in Spain's Canary Islands this year. They travel an extremely dangerous path by sea from Africa.

Moussa's parents are dead. He left Guinea last month. The teenager crowded into a wooden boat with 240 other migrants for the trip to the Canary Islands. The trip took 11 days. They did not have enough food or fresh water.

Twenty people died during the trip, the travelers said. The path they took is considered one of the most dangerous for migrants.

Several volunteers give Spanish classes to migrants outside the Las Raices Camp in La Laguna, Spain, November 5, 2023. (REUTERS/Borja Suarez)
Several volunteers give Spanish classes to migrants outside the Las Raices Camp in La Laguna, Spain, November 5, 2023. (REUTERS/Borja Suarez)

Camara arrived October 27 tired and hungry. He soon faced another problem: police registered him as an adult. That meant he was not permitted into a center for minors with better opportunities available.

Camara was with a friend also registered as an adult at an old military base in Tenerife's mountains. There, about 2,000 migrants await transfers to mainland Spain or permission to go elsewhere in Europe.

Registering him as an adult means that instead of receiving extra support to find housing and education until age 18, he will have to support himself alone.

A bone test would be required to prove his age. But Red Cross papers support Camara's claim that he is 15 and not 18 as the police said.

Canary Islands president Fernando Clavijo told Reuters that the registration issues show that the government is overwhelmed by the numbers of arrivals.

"We have neither the resources nor the calm to deal with the avalanche coming in," he added. He blamed police for processing errors as about 100 children a day came into the Canaries.

He said Spain's national government was not dealing with the issue. He said it has only offered to move 347 migrant children to other areas until December.

‘Many more will come'

Additionally, human rights organization Amnesty International said in a recent report that 12 out of 29 migrants it interviewed at adult centers in the Canaries were actually minors.

For children wrongly identified as adults, it is their responsibility to find an aid group to help them. Such supporters can request a bone test for a child to confirm their age. However, the process that can take months.

Amnesty officials said the policy is unfair. The group said such tests should only be used if there was substantial doubt about a migrant's stated age and no other proof.

There are eight Canary Islands. El Hierro is one of those most affected by migration. The island has a population of 9,000. More than 11,000 migrants have landed there this year.

In one weekend this month, 500 people arrived in El Hierro on four boats. Out of those 500, four people died and about 15 others were admitted to the island's 31-bed hospital.

Clavijo said the European Union should do more to fix the causes of migration from Africa. Current policy was "to mistreat them at borders" out of sight of most Europeans, he said.

"Do you know what a mother or father has to go through to put their six-year-old or seven-year-old son in a (small wooden boat) with 200 or more people they don't know and throw them into the open sea at night?" he asked. "These people don't do it for fun."

Mas Fall is 17-year-old from Senegal. He said the Canaries should expect more young migrants like him. He said the dangerous 1,450-kilometer journey to El Hierro is not going to stop people.

"Many more like me will come," he said in Spanish, newly learned.

I'm Dan Novak.

Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by Reuters.


Words in This Story

opportunity — n. an amount of time or a situation in which something can be done

overwhelm — v. to affect very strongly

avalanche — n. a sudden great amount of something

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