In the early hours of the morning this Monday, May 4, a Maritime Rescue patrol intercepted a boat about 11km south of Gran Canaria with 56 people on board,  according to reports from the Red Cross and the main 112 Canary Islands Coordinating Centre for Emergencies and Security.  Confusingly a second boat, spotted 74km south of Fuerteventura, was also intercepted last night, which some reports seem to have placed on Gran Canaria, however was this morning reported to have actually landed at Fuerteventura’s port of Gran Tarajal.

Tragedy In The Making

More than 1500 migrants have arrived by boat on the islands since the start of 2020, representing a nearly 800% increase over the same period last year.  Illegal migration routes have been significantly controlled and reduced over the last two years via the safer and more traditional Mediterranean routes into Spain from the north coasts of Morocco and Algeria, leading people traffickers and gangs to focus on the much more dangerous Atlantic routes primarily from Morocco’s south west coast, the disputed territory of Western Sahara and from Mauritania, with some craft even reported to have been leaving from as far south as Senegal.

This worrying trend is towards more and more struggling people, of Sub-Saharan and Maghrebi origin, risking their lives in over-crowded open boats, at the hands of unscrupulous traffickers, in a desperate attempt to outrun conflict and poverty, and to reach European shores.  Can we really afford to ignore what is happening? The tragedy of who-knows-how-many souls drifting helplessly out into the mid-Atlantic is further compounded by the, as of yet uncertain, trajectory of a complicated world-wide corona virus pandemic that is only now starting to affect many countries on the African continent.

Despite many warnings in recent months of an uptick in expected traffic headed for The Canary Islands, the regional and islands’ governments are sorely ill prepared to care for and accommodate those that manage to make it to these shores.  Meanwhile 95% of our hotels remain empty with little more than hopeful optimism setting out when we think we may be able to reverse the current #Tourism0 situation, with all inbound and outbound flights heavily restricted until Spanish borders are once again allowed to open.

Can we really keep our borders closed, and our accommodations empty, and at the same time claim to have no ability to cope with migrants who risk their lives to try to come here?  Can we really deport those who do manage to make it, while COVID-19 is still a primary concern?  These are worrying questions, and ones to which we will need to find answers, while seeking to maintain our humanity.

The Spanish Salvamento Maritimo intercepted a boat, brought to Arguineguín docks at about 6.30am this morning, following the first sighting at 04.42, just six nautical miles south of Gran Canaria, then transferred the migrants travelling on board to the port in the municipality of Mogán, on the south-west coast of the island.

The 56 occupants of this patera are reported by sources among the Red Cross to be all male, and all said that they come from Mali, 20 of them claiming to be minors, however this has yet to be confirmed.

Two of the migrants were referred to health centres, one due to an unspecified illness and the other with a possible fracture.

Counting the days they claim to have been at sea, emergency teams believe that they could have left for the Canary Islands from southern Mauritania or even from Senegal.

Another boat was rescued last night near Fuerteventura.

Salvamento Marítimo reports having rescued 53 migrants, including two children and three pregnant women, travelling aboard a speedboat located about 74 kilometres southeast of Fuerteventura, say Maritime Rescue sources and the Guardia Civil.

The Maritime Rescue service had already mobilised their Sasemar 103 aircraft to patrol the area, after receiving an NGO warning that an inflatable speed boat had left from El Aaiún (Western Sahara) at dawn yesterday morning carrying at least fifty people towards the Canary Islands.

As the plane flew over the maritime zone to the south of the Canary Islands, a fishing boat reported that they had seen a vessel with at least 40 people on board headed towards Fuerteventura.

The Sasemar 103 confirmed the sighting and coordinated an intercept and rescue position, to enable the Salvamar Mízar rescue vessel to head out to meet the inflatable, which they found at about 18:10.

35 men, 16 women and two children were travelling on this craft, and they have been transferred to the port of Gran Tarajal (Fuerteventura) by the Salvamar Mízar.

According to the information gathered by Guardia Civil agents at the dock, all the immigrants say that they originated from Guinea Conakry, except one that comes from Ivory Coast.

One of the pregnant women has been referred to the Puerto del Rosario hospital after disembarking at the eastern Canary Islands port.

Sources: Cadena SER, La Provincia, Canarias7, Slavamento Maritimo, Red Cross & Guardia Civil