Official statistics say that among the 23,000 people arriving on the islands there are hardly any asylum seekers, but the reality is different: difficulties in accessing the procedure leave them off the radar
The number of asylum applications filed in the Canary Islands in 2020 poses an apparent mystery. That year, in which 23,000 Africans arrived in the archipelago by boat, only 3,984 applications for international protection were formalized. The data by nationality has not been published, so common sense can lead those who ask where those people who have requested asylum on the islands come from to respond hastily.
– From Mali, right? Judith Sunderland, deputy director of Human Rights Watch, who was in Gran Canaria in November taking note of the violations of migrants’ rights, groped.
The answer is no. Although the islands have served as a safe haven for more than 4,000 Malians and hundreds of other migrants fleeing countries in conflict, cutting, forced marriages, political persecution or ethnic violence, more than 90% of the requests presented in the Canary Islands are from Latin Americans who arrived by plane. In the detailed statistics by nationality, provided by the Ministry of the Interior to EL PAÍS, Africans must be searched with a magnifying glass. They are only 8.6% of the total. The most numerous are Malians, who barely add 189 applications. Although Malian nationals also migrate for economic reasons, they are one of the clearest profiles of potential refugees because they come from a country where conflicts and terrorism have spread to more and more areas since 2012.
In Spain, 88,762 applications were submitted in 2020. More than 80% come from Latin American countries
Are there no refugees in the boats that have arrived in the Canary Islands? Yes there are and they are not as few as is believed, but the difficulties in requesting protection leave them out of the statistics, half a dozen specialists consulted coincide. They are invisible for Madrid and Brussels. “Access to the asylum procedure in the Canary Islands, as in other parts of Spain, poses many challenges. The islands have not counted on the reinforcement of the specific capacities on asylum that is needed and more resources are needed ”, warns the spokesperson for Acnur in Spain, María Jesús Vega.
The shortcomings of the system are identified as soon as you disembark. The first people who must advise migrants about their rights are public defenders, but legal aid has become non-existent in the months with the greatest influx of boats. In the Gran Canaria dock in Arguineguín, where more than 2,600 people were crowded, the lawyers themselves acknowledged that only a few saw their clients in person and that the majority were limited to signing the return orders at the police station and collecting the service. In Tenerife, lawyers who insisted on providing individual and quality assistance found that to serve almost 200 people they only had one interpreter.