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Hundreds of migrants overwhelm tiny Canary Island

October 6, 2023

El Hierro, the tiniest of the Canary Islands, has received more than 1,200 migrants in the last six days alone. Authorities say they can not cope with the people arriving.

The Red Cross treat migrants who arrived in El Hierro, Canary Islands
Migrant arrivals by sea to Spain have increased by a fifth so far this year compared to the same period in 2022Image: Europa Press/abaca/picture alliance

Spain's maritime rescue service said that over the last 24 hours, 500 migrants arrived in the Canary Islands in six wooden boats after setting off into the Atlantic from West Africa.

Over half of those arrived in three boats at El Hierro island on Friday alone. Authorities on the island, with a population of 11,000, said they were overwhelmed by the number of arrivals.

Another two boats arrived in Tenerife, and one boat arrived on Gran Canaria with 243 people, all from sub-Saharan Africa.

Several people arrive by boat at the dock in El Hierro, Canary Islands
The seven islands of the Atlantic archipelago´of the Canary Islands have become the main destination for migrants from Africa trying to reach SpainImage: Europa Press/abaca/picture alliance

The head of the Red Cross' emergency unit in El Hierro, Inigo Vila, told reporters the organization had to increase its resources to deal with the higher number of people in need of aid.

"We have reinforced our staff and equipment to be able to provide as much coverage as possible," Vila said. "We have even reinforced with volunteer personnel from other islands that perhaps are not suffering the pressure El Hierro is suffering at the moment."

Migrant route to Spain and Europe

Lying barely 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the northwest coast of Africa at their closest point, the Canary Islands have become a  main route for migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees trying to reach Spain by sea. In 2022, half of irregular migrants entering Spain went via the Canaries.

El Hierro, the westernmost and smallest of the Canary Islands, is also the furthest island from Africa.

Over 1,200 migrants have arrived over the past week on the tiny island.

"The Herrenos are a helpful and empathetic people who know first-hand what migration means. But they are not prepared in terms of space, population or resources to cope with such a large number of migrants," the head of the Canary Islands regional government, Fernando Clavijo, said

Spanish authorities transferred some 500 migrants from El Hierro to Tenerife overnight on Thursday.

lo/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)