The Observers

Migrants in Spain's Canary Islands report deplorable living conditions

In mid-April, our team was contacted by migrants sharing stories of deplorable conditions in a quarantine centre on the Spanish island of Fuerteventura.
In mid-April, our team was contacted by migrants sharing stories of deplorable conditions in a quarantine centre on the Spanish island of Fuerteventura. © Observers

In 2020, more than 23,000 migrants from the African coast arrived in the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago. But many of them are still stuck there, in sometimes difficult circumstances. The staff of the FRANCE 24 Observers was alerted to the deplorable conditions in mid-April by migrants in a quarantine centre on the island of Fuerteventura.

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Since March 30, Ahmed (not his real name), a Guinean migrant who arrived in the Canary Islands in October 2020, has been locked up in a quarantine centre on the island of Fuerteventura. The centre, "Nave del Queso," is designated for migrants with Covid-19 and the contact cases.

But for Ahmed, the conditions of the isolation centre are substandard. In mid-April, he sent several images to our editorial team. The photos show a makeshift shed, with spaces divided by sheets and fences. The migrants sleep on bunk beds, sometimes very close to the toilets and showers. Ahmed explains:

We have been here for 35 days. During the day, we only sleep, we don't go outside, absolutely everything is closed. The toilets are next to where we sleep. We eat there, we do everything. Sometimes, if the toilets are full, there is water running. We can't live here, it's impossible. On top of that, we lack food, and even water to drink. People are sick here, physically and psychologically.

The Nave del Queso centre has also been criticised by Amnesty International Spain, which has condemned it as a place that does not meet "minimum sanitary conditions", where men, women and children have been "deprived of their freedom", in some cases for almost a month.

The authorities announced that the quarantine centre would soon be closed, without giving a precise date. Contacted again on May 11, three days after we first reported about the situation, Ahmed was still at the "Nave del Queso."

"This is our 42nd day here today," he confirmed, sending new pictures.

Migrants wait for a Covid-19 test at the quarantine centre in Fuerteventura on May 11, 2021.
Migrants wait for a Covid-19 test at the quarantine centre in Fuerteventura on May 11, 2021. © Observers

A lack of 'translators, doctors, lawyers and psychologists'

According to Roberto Mesa, a spokesperson for the assembly, some of these migrants' challenges could be avoided:

In the Las Raices camp, nearly 30 people of different nationalities are in the same tent. There can be misunderstandings. When migrants ask for help, they are told "tomorrow, tomorrow." The policy is unpredictable: Some have been able to leave for mainland Spain by buying a ticket themselves, others have applied for asylum and hold a passport but are still without a solution [Editor's note: since April 14 , a court decision allows migrants holding a passport or an application for international protection to travel to the mainland on their own, but according to NGOs, the implementation of this decision is very unpredictable and some migrants do not have the means to buy a ticket.] Some leave shortly after arriving, others do not. All this generates a lot of frustration. We have seen young people change psychologically, some of them self-harm. If there were more translators, doctors, lawyers and psychologists, we could avoid some of the tensions.

The Spanish government asserts that the Canary Islands are not "prison islands" and is accelerating transfers of migrants to other Spanish regions. In the first four months of 2021, at least 4,300 migrants were sent to the Spanish mainland, compared to only 2,100 in 2020.

In the official reception centres in the Canary Islands, only 7,000 migrants remain, including almost 2,000 minors. But according to associations, these figures do not include people in informal settlements.