Migrant women and children situation in the Canary Islands is worrying

by Lorraine Williamson
migrant women and children

CANARY ISLANDS -Organisations in the Canary Islands are sounding the alarm. There is a growing number of migrant women and children arriving on this archipelago and the necessary assistance is inadequate. 

This week, a two-year-old girl from Mali died of severe dehydration. A young woman is still in a worrying condition in intensive care. And a further eleven minors and seven adult migrants have been admitted to a regular ward in hospital. 

Significant increase in migrant women and children

In October of last year, the Canary Islands welcomed 2,006 unaccompanied minor migrants, now there are already 2,658. Director Alejandra Torres of the University Hospital for Mother and Child says she has never experienced this in 25 years. “It is exceptional that the migrants reaching the Spanish islands are in such bad shape. It is also the first time that so many women and children are present. This growing number is a serious concern, ”says Torres. The spokesperson for the UHNCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) and the director of the Red Cross emergency service also share concerns about this changing trend. 

In the first quarter of this year, the percentage of young women among migrants rose from 5-12%. The percentage of minors also increased by 4%. This increase is partly the result of the war in Mali and the increase in violence in countries such as Guinea Conakri. Many migrants are also fleeing gender-based violence, forced marriage or human trafficking. However, the migrant shelter in the Canary Islands is not specifically geared to the needs of this group of people. 

Protocols for migrant women and children 

Without special protocols for this migrant group, women and young children are received in the same way as the men. That is, they are transferred to temporary shelter and officially detained and questioned by the police within 72 hours of arrival. The mother of the Malian girl who died in hospital after four days, remained separated from her child all this time as a result of this protocol. She was only taken to hospital at the very end. 

Cogesa Expats

The Spanish Ombudsman has previously denounced the lack of a protocol for women and children who do not legally reach Spain. In 2015 he asked in a letter to put the interests of the children first. Before being arrested, it must be ensured that family members stay together. The ombudsman also argued for pregnant women and mothers with children to be exempt from arrest. 

However, it still happens that mothers and children are separated from each other for a long time after arrival in Spain. In October, at least 12 minors remained separated from their parents for months after the Las Palmas Provincial Public Prosecutor’s Office decided to do so. Alejandra Torres confirmed on Wednesday that parents of children who have been admitted to her hospital will be reunited with their child as soon as possible. 

Better procedure for vulnerable groups 

The UHNCR also calls for a better asylum procedure for vulnerable groups such as women and children. “This group of migrants flees from violence and then has to make a tough and risky journey. There must be more help for these people and their asylum procedure must be smoother, ”said the spokesman. 


The Spanish security services are investigating the boat on which the now deceased two-year-old girl arrived in Spain last Sunday. As previously reported, 52 migrants travelled on this boat, including 29 women, 14 men and 9 children. All nine children and one woman had to be hospitalised. According to the Canary Health Service, the alarming condition in which the migrants arrived may not have been caused by the relatively short boat journey alone. Provisions on the way may have been confiscated by a number of adult men on the boat. Because the migrants are threatened by their fellow travellers and it is difficult to talk about the trip, this police investigation is difficult. 

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