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Gran Canaria: From vacation paradise to refugee hotspot

They come at dusk. 40 migrants have just reached the beach of Maspalomas in Gran Canaria with their boat. A police helicopter is in the air, flying over the affected area. A boat of the Spanish coast guard drives up and down near the shore, stops for a few minutes and then slowly drives along the said beach section again.

Police and ambulances come up, speed through the sand of the dunes. 40 Moroccans and black Africans. Exclusively men. In single file and escorted by the police, they walk across the beach that has become wet and sticky from the rain of the past few days. They wear jackets, sweaters and masks. Few are eyewitnesses to this incident. Because now that the sun has set and the last romantic souvenir photos of it are saved on the mobile phone, the few remaining package holidaymakers have long since made their way to the evening buffets of their hotels due to the Covid pandemic.

Meanwhile, rescue workers are handing the migrants plastic water bottles against possible dehydration at sea. In the twilight of the falling night, the group reached the paved beach promenade, where they were first arrested by the police. Access roads are cordoned off and those who have arrived are shielded from the public.

Allegations against Frontex
Scenes like this happen almost every day in the Canary Islands, which are developing into the new hotspot for migrants. This year alone, almost 20,000 of them have already arrived on the Atlantic Islands, a hundred kilometers from the West African coast. Almost ten times as many as in previous years. In the past week alone, more than 2,000 came.

The reasons: Firstly, the weather conditions. Winds and temperatures hardly allow a crossing over the Mediterranean at this time of the year. In addition, the previous hotspot routes in the eastern and central Mediterranean are now being monitored more consistently than in previous years.

This is probably one of the reasons why the European border protection agency Frontex has come under criticism from the radical left these days. Their accusation: The border guards would carry out so-called pushbacks, especially in the Aegean Sea. This refers to operations in which migrant boats are pushed back across the EU's external border in EU waters without checking an asylum claim.

An accusation that the agency firmly rejects. The authority did not have any concrete evidence of this allegation. Intercepting migrant boats and asking them to change course is, however, covered by the EU regulation on the surveillance of the external sea borders.

Camp closed due to overcrowding
But while the current hotspot islands such as Lesbos in Greece or Lampedusa in Italy have now adjusted to the situation, the Canaries still lack the appropriate infrastructure to cope with this largest flow of migrants since 2006.

Another reason for the sudden rush: Due to the Covid pandemic and the associated restrictions, numerous Africans have lost their jobs and thus their income. Now they want to find new sources of income in the EU.

The local authorities are largely unprepared for this. The capacities to accommodate migrants are correspondingly small. A makeshift camp in the port of Arguineguin, a few kilometers from Maspalomas, was closed this week due to overcrowding.

The migrants are now being accommodated in hotels that have been vacant due to the Corona crisis. One of them is the Hotel Waikiki in the tourist hotspot Playa del Inglés. A barrier blocks the way to the hotel entrance. In addition, security personnel guard the building. Black Africans stand and sit across the street, killing time. Other migrants sit on the balconies of their hotel rooms.

Local anger
A scene that brings highly explosive social tensions. "We can no longer pay for our houses and apartments and they are accommodated here free of charge in four-star hotels," complain locals in talks with a journalist from Junge Freiheit. On the weekends there are now regular protest rallies by the local population.

A situation whose explosiveness has not remained hidden from the local authorities. Several reception camps are currently being set up at high pressure in the military field. Far from the public eye and not accessible to them either. Which means that the migration crisis would once again be out of sight and therefore out of people's minds.

And while the socialist government of Spain officially declares that it does not want to move migrants to the mainland, in Gran Canaria the sparrows are already whistling that many of those who have illegally come into the country are already being flown out at state expense to relieve the Canary Islands and one thing above all to avoid: endangering the image of the archipelago as a safe holiday destination.

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