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Spain, facing humanitarian crisis, opens 2nd migrant camp on overrun Gran Canaria island

Spanish authorities have opened a second holding camp for to tackle the steady influx of people making the perilous journey on small boats from West Africa to its Canary Islands.

Migrants from Morocco sit after arriving at the coast of the Canary Island, having made the perilous crossing of the Atlantic Oceanby sailing on a wooden boat.
Migrants from Morocco sit after arriving at the coast of the Canary Island, having made the perilous crossing of the Atlantic Oceanby sailing on a wooden boat. Spain’s government is scrambling to manage the steady stream of migrants to its Canary Islands from West Africa.
Javier Bauluz / AP

BARCELONA, Spain — Spain’s government is scrambling to manage the steady stream of migrants to its Canary Islands from West Africa by opening a second holding camp as political tensions rise in the Atlantic archipelago.

The second temporary migrant processing center on the island of Gran Canaria comes amid growing criticism from local authorities and human rights groups.

Officials say they can’t adequately care for the thousands of migrants arriving by boat in recent weeks.

Spain’s Interior Ministry said authorities relieved pressure on an overrun makeshift shelter packed with nearly 2,300 migrants by transferring about 200 to a second camp.

A pier on the quiet southwest coast of Gran Canaria has become the center of Spain’s ongoing humanitarian crisis. Thousands of migrants who survived the perilous journey in flimsy wooden or rubber boats have been kept on the Arguineguín pier for days on end.

The installation was planned to shelter 400 people in Red Cross tents. As the numbers rose far past that, many have slept on the concrete and spent hours exposed to the sun.

Police can hold migrants who arrive without authorization for 72 hours unless they need to complete a quarantine after testing positive for the coronavirus. Municipal authorities said 79 of those now held on the pier had tested positive.

Humanitarian groups, though, said many migrants say they have spent longer than three days there.

The camp that opened Wednesday can hold 800 people in tents.

The relief came a day after 197 migrants were released without provisions made to house or feed them.

Mayor Onalia Bueno organized buses to take them to Las Palmas, the island’s capital city.

“We had to take control of the situation because we couldn’t have all these people wandering the streets or the island without any means,” Bueno said.

Canary lawmaker Ana Oramas told Spain’s Parliament the situation was unsustainable, with more than 16,760 migrants streaming to the archipelago this year — up 1,000% over 2019. More than half of that total is from just the past four weeks.

“The Canary Islands are a powder keg,” Oramas said “They are a volcano waiting to explode.”

With at least 493 deaths this year, the route to the Canary Islands has seen proportionally more deaths per arrival than the Central Mediterranean journey from Libya to Italy or Malta.