Canary Islands sees more than eight-fold increase in migrants in 2020

A health worker takes the temperature of a migrant child, in the port of Arguineguin
A health worker takes the temperature of a migrant child, in the port of Arguineguin, in the south part of the island of Gran Canaria, Spain January 4, 2021. REUTERS/Borja Suarez

January 4, 2021

MADRID (Reuters) – The number of undocumented migrants arriving in Spain’s Canary Islands on rickety boats was more than eight times higher in 2020 than the previous year, the Spanish Interior Ministry said on Monday.

As north and sub-Saharan Africans grew desperate after losing incomes from tourism and other industries because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 23,023 migrants arrived in the archipelago last year, up from 2,687 in 2019, the ministry said.

Hundreds of people died last year making the perilous crossing to the Spanish islands in the Atlantic Ocean, often in overcrowded boats with unreliable engines, the International Organization for Migration said.

The migrants tend to see the Canary Islands as a staging post to get to mainland Europe, but the islands are still more than 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) from continental Spain.

Overall, the number of illegal migrants intercepted by Spanish authorities across the country in 2020 rose by 29% to 41,861, as fewer people sailed to continental Spain and the Balearic Islands or crossed the land border between Morocco and the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.

(This story corrects figure in last paragraph to 41,861).

(Reporting by Inti Landauro; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Barbara Lewis)