There were at least 15 people detained in a combined operation between Spanish police and the EU Agency for Law Enforcement on Friday, when agents with balaclavas, bullet-proof vests and automatic weapons were deployed onto the streets of Puerto Rico de Gran Canaria and Arguineguín, in a coordinated series of raids as part of an ongoing investigation into a people trafficking gang, who were working out of several premises in the southern coastal towns, to arrange for irregular migrants and false paperwork to travel to the archipelago, before trying to arrange onward transit to mainland Europe.
Ironically the premises from which the gang operated are in the very same towns that have suffered the largest numbers of migrant arrivals over recent months, and where several street demonstrations called for greater control on irregular migration, a call that was joined by various groups from across the island, and further afield, some of which promoted xenophobia and fear within the population.
The large deployment carried out by Policia Nacional, in cooperation with Europol, this morning in Mogán, resulted in at least 15 people detained on suspicion of people trafficking offences. related to irregular migrants arriving on the coasts of the Canary Islands Archipelago, in open boats and other vessels. Agents searched two hair salons, a travel agency and some apartments located in Arguineguín, Puerto Rico de Gran Canaria, Playa del Cura and in Motor Grande.
Witnesses described seeing “police cars and agents wearing bulletproof vests and carrying a machine gun between the cars” to Norwegian language news portal Canariavisen
The investigation has been open for months, according to sources consulted by Spanish language daily, Canarias7, under the direction of the Immigration and Borders department, with agents having flown in from Madrid and receiving the support of the Maspalomas National Police Station and the main Canary Islands Police Headquarters, who, since this morning, have been deployed along the coast south of Gran Canaria to carry out the co-ordinated warrants for arrests and searches.
Investigators had allegedly identified phone booths and various other businesses, located inside the Shopping Center [sic] Puerto Rico, in Mogán, including travel agencies and various other points across the south of the island, including private apartments in Playa del Cura and Motor Grande, that acted as links in a seemingly sophisticated organisation that sought to coordinate between people who wanted to travel to the Canary Islands or the Peninsula, and those who control the routes, on what is known to be one of the most dangerous migratory routes in Europe, and possible the world.
The Spanish National Police confirmed to local journalists that information around the investigation remains under a summary judicial order for strict secrecy “because the operation is [still] being prosecuted.”
Investigators are looking into a hairdresser’s, located on Calle Alcalde Paco González, in the sleepy fishing-cum-tourist town of Arguineguín, and another located inside the Puerto Rico Shopping Centre, where they have also searched a travel agency, as well as in various tourist apartments a little further along the coast, in Playa del Cura, and in the unassuming little urban community behind Puerto Rico, Motor Grande, say sources close to the investigation.
At least 15 people have been detained for, allegedly, facilitating the irregular transport of migrants to the Archipelago using open boats, pateras and cayucos, and for falsifying documents. A sudden increase in arrivals over the last two years has generated hundreds of deaths in the attempt to complete this dangerous Atlantic ocean journey, using routes that begin from various points along the West African coast, headed towards the Canary Islands. More than 600 individuals are known to have perished in the last year alone, however humanitarian agencies think that number could be more than 1,800 souls lost.
The operation generated a frenzy among residents in both tourist areas, who at first were surprised at the presence of such a large number of National Police, in what would usually be a Guardia Civil controlled area, and by the amount of time they spent in both establishments.