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Canary Island politicians warn of infrastructure ‘collapse’ due to migrant arrivals

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Authorities in the Canary Islands are warning that local infrastructure is on the point of collapse due the arrival of a large number of migrants in recent weeks, with several thousand more expected by the end of the year.

Numbers of those reaching the Spanish islands, which are off the north-western coast of Africa, started to increase at the beginning of the summer, but have risen further in the last few weeks. In the week to Tuesday, about 4,000 migrants arrived.

More than half of them reached port at El Hierro, the smallest, most southwestern of the main islands in the archipelago, with a population of 11,000. According to reports, people have been deliberately heading for the island because its distance from the African coastline means they are less likely to be caught by security forces.

The president of the Canary Island government, Fernando Clavijo, said El Hierro is “already turning into Lampedusa”, in reference to the small Italian island where a large number of migrants have arrived.

The crisis has already taken on a political dimension and Mr Clavijo, of the Canary Coalition party, said his administration “is trying via all means possible, to relieve the pressure by moving [the arrivals] to other islands and trying to ensure that the local inhabitants, who are under a great deal of pressure, do not suffer the consequences of the apathy and abandonment of the Spanish government”.

As of last Sunday, a total of 19,507 migrants had reached the Canary Islands since the beginning of the year, nearly 5,000 more than during the same period in 2022. They mostly travel on long, narrow boats powered by outboard motors. A large number of recent arrivals are from Senegal, where political and social instability is encouraging people to flee the country.

The Spanish maritime rescue service assisted nearly 200 more people on Wednesday as they were drifting in three vessels near the islands of Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura.

In late 2020, the Canary Islands also saw a large increase in the number of migrants, many of whom were housed in hotels which were vacant because of the Covid pandemic. They were later transferred to the Spanish mainland.

On Monday, the Socialist interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, said a central government contingency plan had ensured that all adult migrants had been moved from El Hierro to other islands. However, he said that about 300 children, who are the responsibility of the regional government, remained there.

Contradicting the minister’s “stupid comments”, Mr Clavijo said state-supervised resources were not enough, with only one civil guard present, he claimed, when 350 migrants arrived in El Hierro on Sunday.

The Jupol police union has warned that intelligence reports show another 10,000 migrants will reach the Canary Islands by the end of the year.

Alpidio Armas, the Socialist politician who is in charge of El Hierro, appealed for support across the board.

“We need the governments of the Canary Islands, Spain and Europe to take responsibility for the drama that this island is going through,” he said.

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