Migrant arrivals to Spain’s Canaries surge seven-fold so far this year

By Thomson Reuters Feb 16, 2024 | 10:32 AM

MADRID (Reuters) – The number of migrants boarding rickety boats from West Africa and reaching Spain’s Canary Islands has risen seven-fold so far this year from the same period of 2023, Interior Ministry data showed on Friday.

A total of 11,704 irregular migrants reached the Atlantic Ocean archipelago between Jan. 1 and Feb. 15, compared with the 1,602 who arrived in the same period in 2023, the ministry said.

If the current trend were to continue, the islands could receive 70,000 migrants this year after breaking a record in 2023 with 39,910 arrivals, archipelago regional head Fernando Clavijo told El Pais newspaper on Friday.

Mauritania has recently become a major point of departure for migrants headed to Europe, sending eight out of 10 of the dinghies that reached the archipelago in January, Spanish officials say.

Last week the EU granted Mauritania a 210 million euro ($225 million) package to manage migration, humanitarian aid and opportunities for youth.

Clavijo said one of his main challenges is handling the approximately 5,500 migrants under 18 years old who have arrived and who can’t be redistributed throughout Spain as easily as adults migrants.

On Friday, a court in Gran Canaria island ordered the release from remand of a migrant accused of being a dinghy skipper after tests determined he was underage.

Frontex head Hans Leijtens told Reuters last week that the Atlantic route to the Canary Islands was the busiest irregular route from western Africa into the EU, representing almost a half of the total of nearly 14,000 arrivals last month.

Rights group Walking Borders says 6,007 people lost their lives on the route last year.

($1 = 0.9314 euros)

(Reporting by Emma Pinedo; Editing by Aislinn Laing and Frances Kerry)