After frantic search, Moroccan woman finds brother stranded on Canary Islands

Sarah Bettache reacts during a video call with her brother Ahmed, a migrant from Morocco, in the port of Arguineguin
Sarah Bettache reacts during a video call with her brother Ahmed, 19, a migrant from Morocco, in the port of Arguineguin, on the Canary Island of Gran Canaria, Spain, November 17, 2020. REUTERS/Borja Suarez

November 19, 2020

GRAN CANARIA, Spain (Reuters) – On Nov. 7, Sarah Bettache received an unexpected phone call from her brother Ahmed, who told her he was on the Spanish island of Gran Canaria.

Two days earlier, the 19-year-old had left his native Morocco on a rickety boat and embarked on a dangerous journey to reach the Canary Islands archipelago, around 100 km (60 miles) away.

Like a record number of other migrants this year, he was seeking a better future in Europe.

Bettache, who is 27 and lives in France where she has citizenship, had no warning of her brother’s drastic action, and nor did the rest of the family.

“We were shocked. First we thought he had gone on holiday with his colleagues, because his phone was not charged,” she told Reuters.

After learning of her brother’s fate, she travelled last week to Gran Canaria and embarked on a frantic search to find him.

She said she was told it would be impossible, and their mother became so fraught that she was hospitalised.

“She was so worried. We had no information about him, we didn’t know if he was alive,” Bettache recalled.

Finally, an official from the Red Cross was able to locate Ahmed, aided by a picture Bettache gave her. After a long wait, the Red Cross worker returned with a photograph she had taken with her phone of Ahmed, who was at a migrant camp.

“I was so happy,” said Bettache.

On Monday night, she was finally able to see her brother, but only from about 100 metres away because he was being held in a dockside camp for migrants at Arguineguin harbour. She could only cry and shout.

The facility was set up months ago to cope with a rise in the number of migrants landing there, and was designed as a holding camp before they were moved elsewhere.

But it became overcrowded, and some migrants were forced to sleep in the open as the island struggled to cope with the number of arrivals.

“I can’t explain how I felt in words,” Bettache added later.

On Tuesday, Ahmed was released from the camp and the siblings stayed at an apartment Sarah had rented.

They hope to travel on to mainland Europe together, although Ahmed may struggle if he does not have the correct documents. The Spanish government delegation in the Canaries did not respond to requests for comment on whether such a trip would be possible.

(Reporting by Borja Suarez, Miguel Gutierrez, May Ponzo and Clara-Laeila Laudette; Writing by Joan Faus; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Mike Collett-White)