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SPAIN: Are the Canary Islands becoming a migrant limbo? See Euronews Video

See video here (8’30”)

By Valérie Gauriat

 

Euronews (30.04.2021) – https://bit.ly/3ucvIgz – The port of Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, is a major hub for tourism. It’s also host to a different kind of traveller.

 

Every night, police and security teams are on the lookout for migrants trying to hide in trucks that are ready to board cargo ships headed for the continent.

 

Juan Ignacio Llaño is the Fleet Director for Fred Olsen Express. He is one of the people who often finds these stowaways. He tells us that his team tries to “guarantee the security of all those concerned, above all the migrants”. He stresses that their desired destination is mainland Europe and “they will do anything to leave the islands, even it is at the cost of their own lives”.

 

Dozens of men are found every night in shipping containers at the port. A few of them will make it. The others will try again another day in the near future.

 

Most of those that don’t make it are sent back to the heights of Tenerife island to the archipelago’s biggest reception centre for migrants, Las Raices.

 

 

The media is not allowed inside the centre, but the atmosphere is gloomy there. A makeshift camp has been set up right in front of the gates.

 

Robert Mesa says it’s a symbol. He’s part of a group of residents who come to give a helping hand to those he says have nothing. He tells us that the migrants “wanted to protest about how bad the conditions are inside and also about them being in the Canary Islands for months without anyone telling them a thing about what will happen”. He points out that many of them have passports and have applied for asylum. Some even have invitation letters from family members who can host them in various european countries. Despite all that, they are still not allowed to travel.

 

 

More than 20 000 people making the dangerous Atlantic crossing from Africa’s northern western coast landed in the Canary Islands last year. Many were dispatched to hotels in Gran Canaria, the main island, as reception centres were overwhelmed. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the hotels had plenty of room for the migrants.

 

 

However, the tourist resorts have now emptied, as thousands were either repatriated or made it to the European continent. Those that weren’t so lucky as to reach the mainland, have been stranded by the lockdown.

 

Calvin and Unntove run several hotels and restaurants on the island. They hosted hundreds of migrants at the peak of the crisis. They have decided to keep their doors open to dozens of them.

 

Ousmane is one of their protégés. He arrived from Senegal seven months ago. His dream is to give his family a better future. His wife and baby girl are in Senegal. He has never met his daughter before because when she was born he was already in Gran Canaria. “They’re why I’m doing everything to succeed”, he says.

 

Ousmane never misses any of the language courses provided in one of the hotels run by Calvin Lucock.

 

The 19 year old is patiently waiting for a reply to his asylum request. Like most of his companions at the hotel, he dreams of moving to the continent. He calls for Europeans to help the migrants on the Canary Islands get to the Spanish mainland. “I have faith that sooner or later I will earn my future”, he adds.

 

In order to help the young men build a future, the couple that took them under their wing, has recently launched a foundation, Canaria Mama Africa. “Mama Africa” is also what the guests call Unntove, the woman they consider their second mother. “They have so much hope coming to Europe” she tells us, “I really hope that we can contribute to be a part of a journey for them that that hope will be fulfilled, instead of broken”.

 

To Calvin, there are only two ways to address the challenge of so-called illegal immigration. Though expulsion is one option, he believes integration is a key way to resolve the migrants’ woes. But either way, things need to speed up he says. And insists that “doing nothing isn’t a solution because then you just end up with people living on the street, and that becomes a different challenge”.

 

For some of the local population, it’s one challenge too many.

 

Alex is a member of the Spanish far-right party, Vox. He receives regular complaints from residents who say their lives are disrupted by the presence of the uninvited travellers.

 

He takes us to a residential area where he says people are now afraid to walk out of their homes, since several reception centres were opened there. One of them is a former convent, bordering the house of a resident who wished to remain anonymous, due to fear of reprisals. From her patio, she has a direct view on the windows of the convent. She says that “there are always problems” with the migrants, as there are often conflicts. She does not feel safe. “Every time you leave your house, they can catch you, they can rob you, they can rape you, and so on and we’re not used to living like this”, she adds.

 

Tensions reached a peak a few months ago when violence between residents and migrants erupted near a former school that’s now a reception centre, in one of the neighbourhoods of the capital Las Palmas. Things have since cooled down.

 

For Alex though, stronger steps must be taken by both the Spanish State and the European Union to avoid such situations:

 

“The first thing they have to demand is for people trafficking to stop, and for motherships to be removed. Secondly, using us as a front to stop immigrants getting to Europe, so that they all stay in the Canary Islands, is not the solution. This only results in a huge waste of public funds which costs the taxpayers, when people here don’t have work”.

 

For the Spanish government’s representative in the Canary Islands, Anselmo Pestana Padrón, the European pact on migration and asylum is yet to be implemented. Based on solidarity and responsibility, the pact that was proposed in September 2020 aims to create more efficient and fair migration processes whilst reducing unsafe and irregular routes.

 

To Anselmo, “Europe can’t just look at territories, which are borders, as if migration was their problem. It’s Europe’s problem. And if there’s a territory that is overwhelmed, and where migration generates a social problem, given that there’s an economic crisis also in the Canary Islands, Europe has to show solidarity”.

 

For fear of being repatriated, many migrants have left the reception centres, and live in the streets of Las Palmas.

 

At sunset, dozens of men come out of the shadows to line up for food handed out by Somos Red, a network of local residents who try to help them as best they can. But this has its limits says Roberto Gil, one of the volunteers. The islands’ economy has been hard hit by the sanitary crisis, and “the citizens don’t have the resources to distribute food and clothes, we are saturated”, he stresses. Still, “we can’t let people live, sleep, and eat in the streets!” he exclaims, concluding that this situation is “a time bomb” that “will explode”.

 

As the night falls, groups of men prepare to huddle into the small tents they set up on the beach for the night. They will be dislodged by the police at dawn.

 

Doua is one of the men sleeping rough there. He tried to leave the island four times with all the legal documents required to do so. He shows us his passport, several plane and boat tickets, as well as an international protection form. But he was turned back at each attempt. He would have stayed in Senegal, he says, if there was work, but there isn’t any. He leaves us with a message that is shared by all the other migrants we met:

 

“Help us to leave this island, please”.

 

Photo credits: Euronews





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AUSTRALIA: Senate calls on government to expedite asylum claim of two gay Saudi journalists in ‘arbitrary’ detention

Multiple global news organisations call for release of men, who fled their country only to become embroiled in Australia’s detention system.

 

By Helen Davidson

 

The Guardian (04.12.2019) – https://bit.ly/2E6c8dc – The Senate has passed a motion calling on the government to recognise the increased risk it has placed on two gay Saudi journalists by keeping them in detention after they claimed asylum last month.

 

Guardian Australia can reveal that multiple news organisations around the world have called for the release of the men, warning the Australian government they are watching the case closely.

 

The motion, brought by Greens senator Janet Rice, also urged the government to expedite the refugee assessment process for the couple and assure their safety in the interim.

 

Labor, Centre Alliance and independent senator Jacqui Lambie all pledged their support for the motion, which passed on Wednesday afternoon.

 

Last month Guardian Australia revealed the two men were detained at an Australian airport after passing through immigration on valid tourist visas. They have remained in detention or under guard in hospital ever since, and have alleged threats of violence against them as well as fear they could be targeted by Saudi representatives.

 

Sultan* is a former ministry of media employee and a fixer who had worked with multiple international media organisations, and Nassar* is a cameraman.

 

They fled their home country after Sultan was interrogated by Saudi authorities, who ordered him to stop working with foreign media and made veiled threats to out his and his partner’s relationship.

 

Homosexuality is illegal in Saudi Arabia and punishable by death.

 

Sultan told Guardian Australia last month their arrest and “arbitrary” detention in Australia was comparable to threats back home.

 

“We’ve been threatened with it in Saudi but it never actually happened until we came here,” he said.

 

Rice welcomed the Senate’s move.

 

“When these journalists liken their treatment in Saudi to the violence they have experienced here in Australia, it should be a wake-up call,” she told Guardian Australia.

 

“The government should act swiftly to reflect the view of the Senate on this matter and uphold the values of fairness and diversity that our country says we stand for.”

 

“This motion is an important step to increased public awareness of how dangerous Australian immigration detention centres are,” said the men’s lawyer, Alison Battisson.

 

“I am aware of serious assaults, requiring hospitalisation, taking place on a weekly basis … When assaults do occur, it appears very difficult for the Australian federal police to access detention to investigate.”

 

Several international media organisations have also written to Australia’s immigration minister, David Coleman, in support of the men.

 

“This is unjust treatment of two journalists who travelled to Australia seeking protection from the persecution they faced as gay men in Saudi Arabia,” wrote one letter from Mark MacKinnon, of Canada’s Globe and Mail.

 

“I hope you can intervene to ensure they are released from detention – they have valid visas to visit Australia – so that they can pursue their asylum claim,” he said.”

 

“Please trust that I and my colleagues around the world who know and have worked with [Sultan] will be watching the outcome of this process with very keen interest.”

 

Other letters from some of the world’s most prestigious newsrooms, including the BBC and ITN, urged Coleman to grant the pair asylum, saying the pair would “fit in very well in Australia”.

 

Michael Garrod, the founder of freelancer database, World Fixer, said Sultan was driven to help foreign media “in the spirit of progress, driven and inspired by the initiatives of the Crown Prince”, and said if the couple was returned to Saudi Arabia they faced persecution because of both their sexuality and their profession.

 

“I sincerely hope that your department recognises their considerable contribution to our global understanding of their country and stands by Australia’s promise to support LGBT rights globally,” he said.

 

Peter Greste, journalist and spokesman for the Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom, said: “If Australia wants to be seen as a campaigner of press freedom around the world, and wants to be respected and taken seriously, the government will act swiftly, and with understanding and compassion, in relation to these two journalists.”


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