A protest to remove migrants and “Save Tourism In Mogán” took place this Friday, November 27, in the well known tourist resort town of Puerto Rico de Gran Canaria.  It is estimated up to a thousand people may have attended, with large groups coming from across Gran Canaria and its south coast to support “concerned citizens and business owners” who complain that any chance of a tourism recovery, following the global pandemic response, could be harmed if the, just over, 3,000 migrants staying in Mogán apartment and hotel rooms (voluntarily offered and provided for a nominal fee) are allowed to continue there, despite almost every hotel on the south of the island being otherwise empty.

“This has nothing to do with racism” emphasised British bar owner, Russell Mitchell who runs Xtreeemz, who has been active on social media, and vocal in responding to the legitimate fears being expressed in his local area, beside the Europa Centre overlooking Puerto Rico and the Costa Mogán coastline. The whole demo, he said, was “Very relaxed” and that one of the main organisers, speaking right at the beginning of the rally “explicitly stated there will be no tolerance of being disrespectful to people.” Many nationalities were present, he told us, including “Brits. Irish. Scandis. Nepalese. Indian. German. Dutch. Moroccan.”

Remove migrants from hotels to save tourism

The march to remove migrants travelled through the main town, past all the major shopping centres, before stopping at the Puerto Rico beach for speeches in several languages. “A few people who were not there” says Mitchell, had already been “spouting BS” about the demonstrators, but that he had personally made sure he travelled throughout the crowd, confirming that there was “100% no racist chanting or abuse.”

The mayor of Mogán also took part, as she has with at least 2 other demonstrations in Arguineguín, along with what appeared to be municipal workers in hi-viz uniforms and members of various facebook groups part of the Platforma a Salvemos Turismo, the largest of which appeared to be the same organisers as those previous marches, using a group called “Tu no eres de Arguineguín si no…” (“You are not from Arguineguín if…”), among others, who organised participation on the day.

Since that first empty hotel in Maspalomas stepped up to offer their services (sadly, not otherwise in use during the current crisis) to help alleviate pressure on the situation unfolding at the Arguineguín port, last September, other tourist establishments have followed, preferring to try to stay in business, and keep people working, rather than having to join the tens of thousands currently living from government handouts, ERTE and the like. There have, of course, been dissenting voices, and it seems a number of citizens, and some employers associations, have been publicly calling for the government to remove migrants and making their disapproval clear.

They point out that as an island we have already shown more than three months of “solidarity”.  Nevertheless, in the absence of any tourists, with occupancy standing at well below 10%, one very positive outcome has been for these establishments to be able to continue operating in the face of a massive global economic slowdown and a near total collapse in tourism.

While it is hoped that the situation can be turned around, in some small way, even the most optimistic numbers from Yaiza Castilla, our Regional Tourism Minister, forecast no more than 25% of last years tourist arrivals for the winter season, and all of that with a backdrop of expensive testing and a growing mob of angry voices, with legitimate concerns, who feel that migrants should not be in hotels, particularly they say, when so many residents and locals are not receiving adequate assistance for themselves.  They’ll not hear any talk of the temporariness of these solutions, they fear long term repercussions.  And of course there are plenty, though by no means all, who are very vocal wanting to remove migrants, and even those simply disgusted by the idea of strangers from Africa getting some sort of free ride in luxury hotels.  Of course although claims are made about their staying in 5 star luxury, there are actually no migrants in 5 star hotels on Gran Canaria, and no 5 star hotels in Puerto Rico.

Comparisons with the refugee camps of Lampedusa, in Italy, and Moira, in Greece, abound without ever really appreciating that our situation here is very different to the huge numbers arriving there in 2015-16 (and the steady flow that continue to try) who fled wars in places like Syria to try to find safety in Europe. It is also worth pointing out that the majority of arrivals to The Canary Islands are unlikely to have any legitimate asylum claims, and that almost every country from which they have come already has in place repatriation agreements with Spain to remove migrants, which have lain dormant in the face of closed borders and COVID restrictions. The very same reasons that there are currently no tourists on Gran Canaria.

High numbers of these (mostly) men arriving on Gran Canaria are (mostly) Moroccan, where as the much smaller numbers arriving annually over the last decade or two have appeared demure by comparison, a softly spoken mixture from the Sahel and sub-saharan Africa, now there are many, many more from Maghrebi nations of Northern Africa, some of whom have been criticised for seeming over confident.

Many (mostly) white/caucasian/latin European residents say they simply fear what they see as huge cultural differences, they feel intimidated by boisterous young males, roaming the streets, prevented from carrying on with their dangerous journeys, becoming better acquainted with the area, and even having the audacity to approach people and try to interact, whether asking for cigarettes, or trying to get more information, or even foolishly attempting to flirt with what few local girls still wander around.  Anger has built up among a minority for what “could” happen. “It only takes one bad apple” they say, “we don’t know who they are, they could be rapists, or thieves, or murders, or worse!”  No serious crimes have been reported in connection to any migrants, although there have been instances where security guards have been seen chasing those who have jumped over fences.  There are also reports of large numbers hanging around the beach area, although when we went to speak to them directly last week, it took as an hour to find any to talk to.

Arguineguín also protested to remove migrants

There have been other protest marches, which have been attended by people from all walks of life, however the first of them, in Arguineguín, and its smaller follow up march, was led by individuals with clear anti-immigrant, nationalist agendas that offer little sympathy for why any migrant may have made so perilous a journey. “Stop Illegal Immigration” their banners read, and “We are not racists, we’re realists”.  Some local politicians too have become extraordinarily vocal, and taken part in these mobilisations, studious enough to vaguely distance themselves from racism, while marching alongside far-right activists and organisers, in an attempt corral public opinion, and harvest feelings of unrest, by presenting themselves as simply demanding solutions.

One in particular is the current mayor of Mogán who has repeatedly pushed herself into the spotlight, suggesting the municipality is in some way under siege, portraying herself in equal measure as helpless in the face of powerful dark forces one day and incompetence the next, then upon being informed of proposed solutions demanding action.  She has, it appears to many, studiously timed nearly every one of her recent public announcements to appear to seek a solution, the very night before a more major player, or national politician, is due to visit her municipality and announce it. Indeed she appears to slant the angle of her demands so as to undermine whatever statement is about to be made from Government Ministers.

It seems to observers, such as ourselves, that the effect has been to concentrate dissent, to portray her as having had some sort of an influence on developments while the spotlight moves well away from those other, more local, news stories that might adversely affect her position or her plans. Of course this happens often in politics, but it seems there is a clear strategy to appear to her base as though she is being effective while manipulating the narrative, without ever really being able to solve any part of these complex issues, purely because it is well above her pay grade or competence. She wants to remove migrants from where ever they are, where ever they are, if it is, that is, they are still in her municipality.

Though in other news, this week, Bueno has given herself, along with her fellow councillors and advisers, a more than 18% pay increase, while slamming local residents and business owners with huge increases in tax liabilities.  But more about that at another time…

The patience of the town halls and hoteliers on the south of Gran Canaria has run out, announced several outlets this week. They fear that the migration crisis will destroy the economic recovery of the Archipelago, and this has led at least one tourism employers’ association, along with the mayor of Mogán and the councillor for tourism of neighbouring San Bartolomé de Tirajana, to “give the State an ultimatum: immigrants have to be out of Canarian hotels before December 31st”. This announcement was made on Thursday morning, by Mogán’s mayor Bueno, joined by San Bartolomé de Tirajana councillor, Alejandro Marichal, and the president of the Canarian Confederation of Entrepreneurs, Agustín Manrique de Lara, together with a member of the Las Palmas Federation of Hospitality and Tourism Entrepreneurs, Nicolás Villalobos, in a press conference timed to deliver some political agency to Mogán’s support for a planned protest march the next day through the popular, if currently empty, tourist resort town of Puerto Rico de Gran Canaria.

They claimed that the money being used to deploy the 7,000 migrant beds, that Spanish State ministers promised during their multiple visits to the Canary Islands, now amounts to €300,000 a day, which is to say less than 43€ per head for room and board, in 17 or so mainly 2 and 3 star apartments and hotels, and at least four timeshare establishments, one or two of those classed as 4 star.

Mogán’s clearly belligerent mayoress has been outspoken about the need for Spain’s socialist PSOE-led Government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to remove migrants, pointing to their mournful failure to handle the influx of people arriving on boats. On Thursday she threatened, that if on December 31 – the date, by the way, on which these agreements signed between the ten hotels in her municipality and the Ministry of Migration is already due to come to an end – if “this situation” has not been resolved, her town hall will insist that these establishments must cease this activity, since, otherwise, a sanctioning file, to fine them, will be opened, “as established by the land law” insisted Bueno.  The President of The Canary Islands Ángel Victor Torres, responded by saying that was completely unacceptable.  As of yet no one seems to be able to pinpoint exactly what part of the regional land law could feasibly be used to sanction hoteliers should their current agreements run over the date already established back in September and early October.

For his part, FEHT member, Villalobos, added on Thursday that there are tour operators who are concerned about this situation, and even warned that some have announced that if the situation does not change on the islands they will direct tourists to other destinations as already happened in Lesbos and Lampedusa, which “disappeared from the tourist circuits”.

The Canary News are still searching for any such statements from actual tour operators, we would be grateful if any reader can send us links to reports of those statements being made, or help us to find out who may have made them.

All Images © The Loose Men – Rick Bell

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[<EDIT: Part of the quoted response from Mr Mitchell has been removed at his public request, due to upset caused after the fact. Mr Mitchell was contacted at the time of publishing and had no objections other than a misspelling of the name of his bar. As courtesy, we have removed the offending quote as it plays no substantive part of this article, and was used simply to ensure completeness of information given directly by Mr Mitchell.>]

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