The Government of the Canary Islands, according to the Department of Social Rights, say their priority now is the closure of the Puerto Bello temporary reception centre for migrant youths in Puerto Rico de Gran Canaria, Mogán, saying once that objective is achieved, decisions will be made as whether any action needs to be taken against the Siglo XXI Foundation, who were contracted to manage the out of use hotel facility in December last year, after it began to be used as temporary emergency accommodation two months earlier. Spanish language daily La Provincia report this morning that the government refuses to act, while further evidence of any criminality is sought.
The Canary Islands Autonomous Community, who are the legal guardians for the unaccompanied migrant minors, have, following two inspections, verified some part of the irregularities in allegations reported anonymously, first to child protection services on May 31, and then received by the local town hall on June 10, the same day as an inspection was taking place, where evidence of the consumption of alcohol and drugs and a lack of educational activity were confirmed. No evidence has been presented to support the more serious allegations, of at least one case of sexual abuse and 3 suspected to have taken part in prostitution, however for now the government will prioritise their search for alternatives, to relocate the 78 youths in their care who still remain at the apartments in the near-empty tourist town in the municipality of Mogán.
The complaints, claiming to have been sent by a worker or workers at the facility, arrived first at the General Directorate for the Protection of Children and the Family on the evening of May 31, which led them to immediately instigate an investigation despite the authors having not identified themselves or presented any evidence. Later, details were sent to the Mogán Town Council, which alluded to alleged sexual assaults against one minor and the suspected practice of prostitution by three other residents inside and outside the reception centre, as well as alleging numerous irregularities in the treatment of the children in care and the deterioration of the facilities, due to past altercations.
These accusations are now all being investigated by the Prosecutor’s Office for Minors and the Guardia Civil, who are also trying to locate eleven minors, unaccounted for, who may have escaped in recent weeks, including the boy who was allegedly sexually assaulted by two inmates, both of whom had already, at the time, been certified as adults awaiting transfer out of the residential resource. This last situation has increased the criticism from the Ministry of Social Rights aimed at the Prosecutor’s Office itself and to Spain’s Central Government Delegation, who are supposed to be responsible for determining the age of the migrants received in these facilities, squarely pointing the blame for delays in the separation of minors and adults.
Rehoming minors in alternative accommodations
Sources from the Ministry explained on Thursday that “right now” the priority is to evacuate that centre and relocate the minors. “Later it will be seen if any action should be taken against the entity,” they pointed out.
The Government of the Canary Islands has three existing contracts with the Siglo XXI Social Response Foundation for the management of facilities for unaccompanied migrant minors. Since these contracts began, in 2020, no serious incidents have been reported at either of the other two centres.
Other organisations collaborating with the administration have reported incidents at the facilities they manage, but there have never been any reports with the seriousness of those events alleged to have occurred at the Puerto Bello, now under investigation. The main problem, according to ministry sources, has been the presence of adults at resources meant for minors and the slowness in officially determining their age, which they say prevents a more stable job being done.
The Government had to close the Tamanaco, one of the temporary reception centres opened in Puerto Rico as a result of the huge influx of boats and cayucos to the Port of Arguineguín. After several incidents, some thought to have been instigated by adults claiming to be children, the more than one hundred who were staying there were transferred to other facilities. The regional authorities have now set July 15 as the final deadline to relocate all 74 youths remaining at Puerto Bello.
Another facility located in the tourist town of Puerto Rico de Gran Canaria, the La Carlota apartment complex, has not once registered any serious incidents in all that time, so it has been suggested that the conflicts could well be related to the actions of the managing entities, including a lack of specialised personnel or those who do not have job security, which leads workers to resign shortly after being hired. The inspections carried out by the General Directorate for the Protection of Minors and the Family, led technicians to confirm that employees were “fearful and unmotivated”, and they saw evidence of very “little educational intervention”.
Some damage was caused by the youths staying at the apartment complex and in the attached commercial premises, the most serious having been during a little rampage caused by 4 individuals back in February, one of whom it turned out was an adult. Sources have explained that the lease contracts for these facilities are between the managing organisation and the owners of the properties, in this case between the Siglo XXI Foundation and the company Hermanos Medina La Herradura SL, as part of the agreement the foundation agrees to carry out any repair work and deliver the establishment the condition they found it, once it has been vacated.
This newspaper has tried, without success, to obtain the version of both entities on the situation of the centre. In the case of Tamanaco, according to other sources consulted, the monthly rent was around 25,000 euros per month.
After receiving an anonymous complaint that the centre for foreign minors does not accompanied by Porto Bello, there had been sexual abuse, the Canary Islands minister in charge of Social Rights, Noemí Santana, provided a report detailing the actions carried out by her department, starting from the day after the complaint was received, on June 1, through to the 14th of the same month. The original complaint was received on May 31, and since June 1, the Ministry has been carrying out a preliminary investigation and an inspection, in this case by an expert official, which led to the first official complaint filed on June 14.
The investigations continue, though as yet there has only been evidence of some alcohol and drug use among the teenagers, with no evidence currently of the more serious sexual allegations and other accusations made by the still anonymous would-be whistleblowers.