Hundreds of migrants call for freedom at camp on Gran Canaria

GRAN CANARIA, Spain (Reuters) – A group of migrants being held at a dockside camp on the Spanish island of Gran Canaria chanted “freedom” on Tuesday as they tried to force open a police fence and the coast guard brought in more people rescued from boats on the Atlantic sea.

Although sea-borne migration to Spain is down nearly 19% this year, arrivals to the Canary Islands have surged 573% to 3,933 migrants, data from Spain’s interior ministry shows.

A coast guard spokeswoman said 81 North African men were rescued from three small boats and taken to the port of Arguineguin on Gran Canaria, while another 29 reached the island on their own by boat.

A Spanish Red Cross spokesman said another boat with around 10 migrants had also arrived.

At the crammed makeshift camp in Arguineguin, police with batons rushed to the area after a group of migrants moved a fence that encircles the camp, and made the protesters retreat without force. Some jumped the fence but were quickly told by police to go back into the camp.

Migrant reception centres across the Canary islands are stretched to capacity and around 420 people are being held at the camp, the Red Cross said. Some of them have been there for several days enduring hot temperatures, sleeping on blankets on the concrete floor, amid increasing despair.

Analysts have suggested that beefed-up security in the Mediterranean is pushing more people to risk the perilous crossing to the Canaries, located around 60 miles west of Morocco.

Following local politicians’ request for more help, the Spanish government said it plans to open more migrant centres on the island as the camp is meant to house migrants only for the first days, an immigration department spokeswoman said.

An interior ministry source said the government had not been transferring migrants from the archipelago to mainland Spain for several years, and their deportation processes were mostly handled locally.

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