Spain searches for answer to migrants eyeing Canary Islands

National / World

FILE – In this Tuesday, Oct.20, 2020 file photo, migrants from Morocco walk along the shore escorted by Spanish Police after arriving at the coast of the Canary Island, Spain. Overwhelmed authorities on the Canary Islands are on Wednesday, Nov. 11 asking Spain’s government for help to care for a rising number of migrants arriving from west Africa. Nearly 2,000 migrants are living in the facility designed to shelter 400 people on a pier on the island of Gran Canaria. (AP Photo/Javier Bauluz)

MADRID (AP) — Spain’s government is stepping up its response to a surge in the number of migrants crossing the Atlantic from Africa to the Canary Islands, though there was little new in the measures announced Friday.

More than 16,000 migrants have arrived in the Spanish islands off northwest Africa this year, hoping to ensure a better life on European soil. In the whole of last year, around 1,500 arrived in the archipelago better known as a European vacation destination.

The arrivals are overwhelming public services in the Canary Islands, and the Minister for Territorial Policy Carolina Darias told a news conference there Friday the government will “enhance the measures already in place.”

That includes more spending on police cooperation with countries such as Morocco, Senegal and Mauritania, which lie on the northwest African coast, to fight people traffickers.

Another goal is to speed up procedures for returning to those three countries any migrants who don’t meet the criteria to be allowed to stay in Europe.

The Spanish foreign ministry, meanwhile, is to spend an additional 500 million euros ($590 million) on cooperation programs with those countries.

The new migrant focus on the perilous Canary Islands route, first seen in 2006, has come as authorities crack down on previously popular passages across the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa to European Union countries.

Though the route from Libya to Italy and Malta has recorded the highest number of deaths this year, with 581 by Thursday, the eight to 10 day journey to the Canary Islands has become the most dangerous, with at least one person dying for every 24 who make it to land. That compares with one of every 52 in the central Mediterranean, according to data from the International Organization for Migration’s Missing Migrant Project.

The number of people confirmed missing or dead trying to reach the Spanish archipelago so far this year is 493, up from 210 in all of 2019. The U.N. body calculates that there may have been at least 391 additional victims this year.

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