Canary Islands sees surge of migrant arrivals via West African route

more shelter is needed for young migrants arriving in the Canary Islands.
more shelter is needed for young migrants arriving in the Canary Islands. Copyright NLNOS
Copyright NLNOS
By Euronews with FRONTEX
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The number of people making the often treacherous boat trip from Africa to the Spanish archipelago has been breaking record after record for months.


As Europe continues to confront large-scale irregular migration from Africa via dangerous routes, the Canary Islands are bearing the brunt of a particular surge.

According to Frontex – the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders – there were more than 6,600 irregular crossings via the Western African migratory route in January, 10 times the figure reported one year ago.

In stark contrast, Frontex said the number of irregular border crossings into the EU fell to nearly 14,000 in January, down about one-third from December, bringing the number roughly in line with the same month last year.

Nearly all major migration routes saw a monthly drop ranging from -71% in the Central Mediterranean to -30% in the Western Balkans.

Most migrants arriving in the Canary Islands are given shelter in areas throughout Spain. But such relocations are not allowed for minors, meaning more shelter is needed for young migrants on the islands.

There are hundreds of young people on the largest island of Gran Canaria alone, housed in more than 70 special reception centres. Dozens of new shelters have been opened in recent months to accommodate young people who board boats in Senegal, Mauritania or Morocco without their parents.

17-year-old Famara from Gambia boarded a Europe-bound boat in Senegal in November.
17-year-old Famara from Gambia boarded a Europe-bound boat in Senegal in November.NLNOS

One of the reception centres on the island is Mundo Nuevo. In a village on a hill next to Las Palmas, about 80 boys are housed in an old monastery. Most of them come from North and West Africa.

“We see that they are coming here at an increasingly younger age," said Gabriel Orihuela, who runs the shelter. "They probably heard that they then have a guarantee of achieving their goal: to get a residence permit, a work permit, training or, above all, work."

One of the migrants is 17-year-old Famara from Gambia. When his mother died last year, he decided to make the trip to Europe. In November, he took a boat from Senegal.

“The time that my mother passed away, I thought about it, because my mother took care of my younger brothers and my sisters," he said. "Now my mother is not there, so I have to be the one taking care of them in future. So that made me come here."

A recent Frontex report said the Western African route experienced a larger rise in irregular crossings in 2023 than any other major route.

In recent months, criminal groups involved in people smuggling in Mauritania have been taking advantage of the increased demand from sub-Saharan migrants arriving in the country in hopes of entering the EU via the Canary Islands.

The smugglers have been cramming an increasing number of migrants onto small wooden fishing boats, putting the lives of the passengers at risk.

In March, Spanish maritime rescuers were called to a boat sighted about 140km south of Gran Canaria. The crew recovered the bodies of two people and rescued 38 others alive.

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