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Undeterred by Coronavirus Pandemic, Migrants Head to Spain’s Canary Islands

September 24, 2020, 04.17 PM

 

TELDE, KOMPAS.com – The coronavirus pandemic has not stopped the ongoing arrivals of migrants into Spain’s Canary Islands.

Sixteen-year-old Madassa Mohammed stepped on a rickety boat that helped him cross Africa to the Canary Islands back in March.

He was not aware that the coronavirus pandemic swept across Europe at the time, and even if he did, it would not have mattered.

Mohammed is among the thousands of other African migrants who have been arriving in droves on the Spanish archipelago.

Read also: Ex-Smugglers Find Few Benefits of EU Funds to Curb African Migration

From a farming family in Mauritania, Mohammed said he came looking for work after his father died, leaving them penniless.

"I'm the oldest and the one who needs to earn the money. My siblings are too young," he explained at a safe house for unaccompanied minors in Telde on Gran Canaria.

"I was forced to cross the sea to look for work: it's risky but it's all about money."

He arrived in March as the Covid-19 virus was spreading like wildfire across Europe at a time when west Africa had barely registered any infections.

Read also: Gallup Poll Shows Migrant Acceptance on the Decline Globally

"On the day we left, they hadn't yet discovered any cases," said this lanky teen wearing the red shirt of a local Canaries football team.

"Just staying at home is worse than coming here and dealing with the pandemic.. in the end, they choose the lesser of two evils," explains Noemi Santana, the Canary Islands official in charge of social rights.

Since January, more than 5,100 migrants have made the perilous crossing from the African coast, an increase of 500 percent from the same period in 2019, raising fears of a recurrence of the crisis of 2006-2007 when tens of thousands of migrants flooded onto the islands.

Read also: Council of Europe Calls for Improved Migrant Housing in Spain

Although a crackdown largely stemmed the flow, it began ticking up again about a year ago. In the first half of September, there were almost 1,200 arrivals — a figure not seen since 2008.

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