Thursday September 23, 2021

Spain minister admits migrant failings at port

November 21, 2020

MADRID: Spain’s defence minister admitted on Friday the government needed to look critically at its approach to the migrant crisis at an overwhelmed Canary Islands port after conditions there became “unsuitable for humans”.

The situation at Arguineguin port on Gran Canaria, the main island in the Spanish archipelago, has been one of chaos in recent weeks due to the huge influx of migrant arrivals.

More than 16,700 migrants have reached the islands this year alone, completely swamping the temporary encampment at Arguineguin port that was intially set up to process arrivals and run virus tests.

Rights groups say some 2,000 people have been sleeping at the port for days if not weeks, many in the rough in conditions they have denounced as appalling.

“I recognise that we need to be self-critical because at a certain point, perhaps the conditions at Arguineguin port were not the most suitable for human beings,” Defence Minister Margarita Robles told Spanish public television, TVE. “We have a humanitarian crisis” in the Canary Islands and “nobody must look the other way,” she said.

Earlier this month, Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said the port camp would be closed and the migrants relocated to military sites, with a first group of 200 people relocated on Wednesday.

They were bussed to an encampment set up by the military at an old weapons dump near Las Palmas, the island’s capital, with another 200 transferred on Thursday. Robles said the site could hold up to 800 migrants.

Spain is also trying to attack the problem diplomatically, with Grande-Marlaska holding talks in Rabat on Friday morning with his Moroccan counterpart Abdelouafi Laftit on ways to stem the arrivals.

The visit comes just five days after Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya visited Senegal on the same mission. Spain’s leftwing coalition government has come under fire over its handling of the crisis which has swamped the islands’ normal reception facilities and left the regional authorities floundering.

Earlier this week, the islands’ regional chief Angel Victor Torres asked the government to “urgently” transfer migrants to mainland Spain, with two ministers flying in for talks with him on Friday. One was Migration Minister Jose Luis Escriva and was Transport Minister Jose Luis Abalos.