Anonymous email blames insufficient management for cover up at migrant minor accommodation
Events have moved quickly in the last week or so, in the too quiet tourist town of Puerto Rico de Gran Canaria. On one little street anonymous accusations of breaking and entering, assaults and mistreatment, reports of mismanagement and a failure to address serious sexual allegations, have this week spiralled into a flurry of activity on all sides, with the primary stated goal to protect the innocent from harm. An investigation has been launched into claims against the staff at the temporary accommodation in question, as well as serious questions about the management of real world problems facing the 170+ unaccompanied youths still stuck in administrative limbo. Vilified by their involuntary neighbours, serious questions are now being asked about how minors are being cared for at all, as well as an alleged lack of transparency, keeping quiet, about reported abuses or problems. Campaigners continue to demand the facility’s immediate closure, the Regional Government say it will close before mid July.
The Canary Islands Ministry of Social Rights last week began an investigation and inspection process at a centre for unaccompanied foreign minors on the south of Gran Canaria. The minister in charge, Noemí Santana, made the decision as a result of an anonymous email, dated May 31**, purporting to be from workers at this particular temporary accommodation facility, which was received through the General Directorate of Protection to Childhood and the Family, alleging serious sexual abuse has occurred at this controversial facility, and that there have also been cases of sexual exploitation of minors ”within and outside” of the establishment. The unsigned message was also sent to the Mogán Town Council, under La Alcaldesa O Bueno.
The Ministry reported yesterday that events denounced in Mogán have been under investigation for the last week and, given the seriousness of the allegations of assault and other irregular practices, they will be studied closely “until the last” to verify the accuracy of the claims within. However, the regional Executive, who are responsible for the custody of minors, also said that they “do not understand” why these employees have not addressed their claims directly to the police or the Prosecutor’s Office, instead of sending an anonymous email. Another of the controversial temporary accommodations in Mogán, the Tamanaco, was recently closed and the Ministry has been working since at least spring to find alternative spaces on the island, so that they can finalise their usage of the Puerto Bello apartments within the month. It is understood from our own sources that the property owner has also been making clear for several months that the situation cannot and should not continue at their premises after the contract expired.
According to the email, widely reported, there have been accusations of “child prostitution, assaults and humiliation, lack of adequate medical care, drug use and trafficking, without the management of the centre having done anything to prevent it.”
In early March a worker is said to have made a report that one of the minors had suffered “repeated sexual assaults by two users[others]” who, according to the anonymous email, were of legal age awaiting their referral to an adult facility. The minor in question, apparently, then escaped from the premises, so as to avoid these abuses and avoid the ridicule he had suffered from other boys there.
The email goes on to make separate claims that at least three minors from the centre had taken part in or practiced prostitution, both inside with other minors and also outside the accommodation, presumably with adults. The testimony of the anonymous authors is also reported to say that they have denounced attacks by some employees on the migrant minors and the use of “disproportionate physical restraints in which the assistants placed their knees on the neck of the users.” The text reportedly goes on to say that these events occurred “months ago”, but the people in charge of directing the centre “kept it quiet” and that “they have not carried out any intervention with the minors or reported it to the authorities.”
The Government of the Canary Islands have made clear that the closure of the centre, managed by the Social Response Foundation Siglo XXI, is already imminent. “By mid-July it will be closed,” say sources within the Social Rights Ministry. For its part, the Mogán Town Council indicated last night that it would pass the case to the Prosecutor’s Office for Minors, which they did this afternoon.
The Visit Mogán (Save Tourism) for English speakers platforma has over recent days made public statements, appearing to link an alleged robbery, last week, with suspicions of child abuse and a youth who fell and broke his pelvis, connecting the reasons for their protests with their own struggle to protect the children, while calling for the immediate removal of the accommodated minors due to migration being seen as a factor in the collapse of tourism, repeatedly demanding the closure of this complex. It is a shifting image.
Public discourse connecting the woes of tourism in Mogán with the migration phenomenon began to be used in the last couple of months of 2020, when tourist establishments, already closed by the COVID-19 pandemic, had begun to be used as temporary reception centres due to a total lack of resources and establishments prepared nor available to take in such a large number of incoming arrivals, adults were unable to leave due to last year’s pandemic restrictions, a problem that continues, but minors by law must be hosted by the regional government under whose care their welfare is to be overseen. By November, the Mogán Town Council had started publicly threatening to open “disciplinary proceedings” against any of the 10 or so hotel establishments that continued to be used as humanitarian resources into 2021.
La Alcaldesa, the local mayor of Mogán focused on December 31 as the ultimate deadline. By November 27, she had drawn up a complaint report about hotels being used to accommodate minors, which necessitated the Regional Government to draw up legislation to protect their use of apartments and any other type of emergency facility necessary to house unaccompanied minors arriving on the islands in boats and cayucos. Our south western mayoress has now found herself with opportunity to champion a further raft of complaints and serious allegations before the courts this morning.
A high priority investigation was launched, looking in to the accusations of sexual assaults allegedly committed against at least one of the Puerto Bello minors; there is an accusation that the management ignored a report that at least three youths had taken part in prostitution, both inside and outside the facilities, and that they “kept it quiet.” There are further allegations of abuse and altercations between the minors themselves, including the possible sale of narcotic substances. All this, the email claims, has continued without the social care foundation responsible for managing that centre, the Siglo XXI Social Response Foundation, nor the Government of the Canary Islands having yet acted to stop these alleged irregularities. For their part Siglo XXI have said they were at no time aware of these accusations, and had they been they would have reported them correctly.
The claims in the email have been passed to the Juvenile Prosecutor’s Office, along with a report of further incidents collected by the town hall themselves, and reports from local residents who have been protesting the situation playing out on a quiet back street of Puerto Rico de Gran Canaria. According to the current mayor, the situation at this centre for minors is “alarming.”
The Government of the Canary Islands, last week, began their internal investigation, immediately carrying out an inspection, aiming to be “as rigorous as possible” despite the accusations having come from an anonymous complaint, according to sources within the General Directorate of Minors, who recognise that there is conflict around that centre, they explained that its closure is among the highest priorities of the Regional Ministry for Social Rights and Equality. The transfer of the youths to other facilities is to be carried out as soon as possible, the middle of July in the worst case scenario, but there are reportedly difficulties in finding adequate numbers of reception spaces.
The complaint sent to the Mogán Town Council anonymously claims to be from Foundation employees who wanted to reveal “some of the many negligent situations that we endure in our day-to-day lives, situations that the past management and current centre allow and promote, violating the rights of minors under guardianship”.
These anonymous carers, it seems, may have collected evidence of what they say has been happening, they claim too that one of the caregivers told them that there were videos of some of the reported attacks, and that there were even some night shift workers who have some of these images on their mobiles, although the existence of those video images has been today denied, according to sources among the care staff consulted.
The email reportedly claims “physical assaults and continued abuse”, which it says “during these months, have been various and repeated” alleging that some employees have carried out these assaults against the minors.
The accusations continue denouncing instances of “disproportionate physical restraints, in which assistants double the weight of a minor placed their knee on the minor’s neck, once they were already contained, without showing resistance; unjustified physical restraints, performing a naked strangulation technique, intimidation of minors by an assistant violently hitting the wall with a wooden stick; continuous and humiliating insults toward minors, in reference to their race, age, physical appearance, hygiene and sexual orientation”.
The damning litany of accusations include Siglo XXI management allegedly having refused to request diagnostic tests for sexually transmitted diseases for the minors. It goes on to say there is still no Covid protocol or confinement rooms for possible positives, and there is a total lack of control when it comes to medications kept at the facility.
The revelations also comment on the suitability of the premises for the job in hand, pointing to a lack of habitability and hygiene. According to reports, the anonymous authors recall that on February 8 there was an altercation involving some of the minors. At least one adult among them was pretending to be a minor. Two rooms and a communal area were damaged, leaving the facilities “seriously deteriorated.” Numerous irregularities were also apparently revealed, according to the authors, in the maintenance of the facilities, education, capacity, the “lack of control of the staff due to the continued absence of the directors at the centre”, there are even claims that there have been “indications and testimonies regarding the sale of narcotic substances to minors by some workers and consumption by employees during working hours”.
The purpose of the foundation that manages the centre, according to the authors, “seems to be more focused on establishing new centres on the island” and expanding its field of action, with its corresponding benefits, having as a consequence the more than obvious physical and psychological deterioration that the minors have suffered during the past seven months.
In response to the email, Mayor O Bueno declared that she would be going to the Prosecutor’s Office to report the allegations along with others that the Town Council has compiled. For its part, the Salvemos el Turismo in English (Visit Mogán) platforma have demanded, as they have been doing since February, the closure of the Puerto Bello complex as a reception centre for foreign minors, prior to that they protested any use of hotels for migrant accommodation.
The Puerto Bello facility first opened to receive unaccompanied minors last September 2020, though the measure “had a transitory and provisional nature.”
Denise and Johnny, who work the Crazy Horse bar on Calle Tasartico, told us back in February, that for the first few months it was all very quiet, but then “something changed” in the last week or two of January. By the first week of February they said there was more and more noise, eventually, they said, taxi’s would no longer drive up to their business, and their clients and neighbours felt too intimidated. “Every night something different happens.”
The platforma say “this outrage against the norms of coexistence are a fait accompli, and under the effects of narcotics and alcohol they” referring to the youths accommodated at the hotel “proceed to robbery, looting, [as well as] violent confrontations among themselves and with their neighbours.”
In the statement sent out this weekend the platforma point out that “about 48 hours after the visit of UNICEF technicians to Puerto Bello”, the unaccompanied foreign minors proceeded, on June 10, 2021 “to steal and loot bottles of alcohol in the Crazy Horse Bar,” confirming the events reported by at least one local resident, published on social media, who says she awoke at 07:20 that morning to find further disruption had occurred in her street, to find fire, police and ambulance crews dealing with an issue outside the local on the road where she lives. There has been no statement from anyone at UNICEF, though we are told to expect their report soon.
Noemi Santana, for her part, has confirmed a thorough investigation has been launched.
**This article was changed to correct the original date of the anonymous allegations email, originally printed as June 10, in error, and now corrected to May 31, as detailed by general director of Child and Family Protection, Iratxe Serrano