The owners of the Puerto Bello apartment complex, in the popular tourist town of Puerto Rico de Gran Canaria, are claiming nearly one million euros from the Canary Islands Government for damages caused by some of a group of unaccompanied migrant minors who were being sheltered there for several months, ostensibly under the guardianship of the Canary Islands Regional Autonomous Executive.
Featured Image: Puerto Bello damage, Image by @Rafaleonortega/CanariasAhora
Several adults were suspected to be among the more than two thousand foreign children who arrived alone on the Canary Islands throughout 2020, a problem that grew in the Archipelago at the same time as unprecedented numbers of migrant arrivals were not able to be removed or to leave of their own volition, due to pandemic restrictions in place at the time. The main cause of these adults being placed among children in care was identified as being initial errors by the National Police at the point of first contact and the subsequent lengthy delays in carrying out age determination tests and obtaining the results. This prevented many youths, being cared from by the state, from being able to be sent to school until their age was officially determined.
In fact, on the very same day that these disturbances occurred, misplaced adults were suspected of causing problems, which we had explained at the time following one of our many visits to this centre, and others, in the area:
Hermanos Medina La Herradura SL, who own the Puerto Bello complex, will demand the payment of the damages by administrative means, from the autonomous community, withdrawing their private accusation in the case against the young Moroccan whose trial was to be held this Tuesday at the Provincial Court of Las Palmas, but which was suspended due to a failure to summon some of the witnesses, according to sources from the Prosecutor’s Office.
The lawyer for the complex, Álvaro Campanario, pointed out that the Prosecutor’s Office are claiming €10,092 worth of damage caused in the attempted riot, allegedly incited and led by the accused Ahmed H., but that there were many more incidents that occurred in the apartments during the nine months it was being used as a temporary reception centre for unaccompanied minors arriving by boat.
The contract between Puerto Bello and the Regional Government expired on July 31 with the complex once again beginning to operate as tourist accommodation, as of the end of 2021, according to court papers.
During the time the property was assigned as an accommodation centre for unaccompanied migrant minors, it was under the supervision of the NGO, Fundación Respuesta Social Siglo XXI, who since 2001 have provided services and infrastructure in the field of childhood and youth social care, developing programs that range from educational and residential care for minors to the management of Nursery Schools, through the implementation of training and employment promotion programs for the young.
The young Moroccan on trial faces up to five years in prison accused of crimes of public disorder, in competition with attack and causing damage, having allegedly led a small rampage through the facility, in the company of other residents, all minors, on the night of February 8, 2021. Full responsibility for the disturbances on that night have been placed squarely on the shoulders of the accused man, who had misrepresented himself as also being a minor, and who should not have been among the unaccompanied youths who were being cared for at the facility.
According to the Public Prosecutor’s accusation, the defendant, carrying a wooden leg torn from a bed in one of the rooms, and in the company of four other minors – who also carried chains, wooden sticks and broken glass – intimidated the young residents of the complex, the vast majority of whom would not join their violent revolt, though he managed to get about twenty to follow him and make trouble.
As a result of that night’s events, the defendant and the other minors caused damage to every floor of the Puerto Bello complex, breaking the glass in doors and windows, breaking all kinds of furniture and appliances, electrical outlets and light sockets, say the Prosecutor’s Office in their brief.
The charges include details of how some minors threw objects, such as microwaves, chairs and tables, from the balconies of the rooms on the upper floors, to the lower ones, causing the educators present at the centre to have to hide to avoid being injured while they waited for the arrival of the security forces.
The agents, when they appeared at the complex, observed the placement of barricades built with chairs, microwaves and glass smashed on the floor, the perpetrators having spilled soapy water to try to prevent access and their arrest, which took several hours, says the indictment.
Unsubstantiated accusations of a failure to protect children
An anonymous complaint, purporting to be from a group of workers at the centre, claimed that there had been some evidence of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation among the vulnerable residents, which occurred both inside and outside the establishment. According to the text, to which CanariasAhora has had access, at least three minors from the centre were suspected to have practiced some form of prostitution, both inside the establishment and also outside, with adults in the local area.
According to these reports of unchecked exploitation, at least one minor was said to have also suffered sexual abuse, perpetrated by adults incorrectly accommodated there, who, despite the fact that their legal age had already been proven, had not yet been referred to another adult reception facility elsewhere in the Archipelago.
The complainants furthermore claimed that the management of the centre were aware of these facts, but that they had “refused to request diagnostic tests for sexually transmitted diseases for the minors.” And it was this, theoretically, that motivated the complaint emailed to the Canary Islands social services and to the local town hall.
It was specifically this anonymous complaint that led the Government of the Canary Islands to order two urgent inspections, which did not manage to obtain any proof the veracity of the accusations. A few days after the document became known in the media, the Las Palmas Prosecutor’s Office, through their Minors’ Section, called for those responsible for the appeal to testify.