LAS PALMAS DE GRAN CANARIA – As a result of the large influx of migrants reaching the Canary Islands in recent months, social tensions are mounting and countless social media posts are ammunition for xenophobia.
The strategic bringing together of thousands of migrants in the Canary Islands puts a heavy burden on local society. In recent weeks, incidents have increased and migrants awaiting their relocation to the mainland are revolting.
Images of arguing migrants are spreading throughout social media. As a result, aggression towards migrants among the local population has increased. A protest march in a month´s time has already been organised ‘for the expulsion of the Moors’. Video images of a number of Moroccan men attacking two valet parkers in a parking lot in Maspalomas (Gran Canaria) gave rise to the tensions. Social media has been filled with hate speech against migrants. As a result, the National Police had to step in to refute the wildest allegations. For example, a message was incorrectly posted claiming that a young local resident was killed by a migrant. YouTube has since removed the video for potentially sensitive content.
Number of incidents increased
Mogán and San Bartolomé de Tirajana are the municipalities where thousands of migrants have been housed in hotels since September. Their mayors say the number of incidents has increased in recent weeks. Incidents include drunkenness and arguments. According to police it is only a small minority that is guilty of this.
However, the actual incidents that do occur, do not justify the social unrest that arises. Pressure from the municipal authorities has even caused the police and the Guardia Civil to patrol their riot units around hotels where the migrants are staying in order to calm the emotions of local residents.
Police and the Guardia Civil are currently investigating the origins of the hate messages on the social media in a bid to prevent violent protests against the migrants. “We are very concerned. Incidents are deliberately magnified and tensions are mounting”, said José Javier Sánchez, a member of the Red Cross staff.
Shelters are full
Social tensions are also high on other islands in Europe where thousands of migrants are housed, such as Lesbos and Lampedusa. Since December 10, no more migrants have been relocated from the Canary Islands to the Spanish mainland. According to data from the Ministry of the Interior, a further 2,700 migrants have been added, while no more than 480 Moroccans have been repatriated during that period. The number of migrants continues to increase, but there is no more room in the hotels and the shelters are already overcrowded. As a result, many have to spend the night on the street, in the park or on the beach.
“We are all stressed, many of us are also depressed. All we want is family reunification and to go to the mainland and work,” says Senegalese Khalifa Ndiaye. Khalifa, a 28-year-old law student, organised a protest for 170 fellow sufferers which led to a hunger strike. The aim of the protest was to enable further travel. More than 100 Senegalese and Malians followed his example and held a peaceful protest in a hotel in Gran Canaria. “There are many problems. We didn’t risk our lives just to sleep and eat here. The majority of us want to work,” says 23-year-old Senegalese Mando Malick. Mando has now been in the Canary Islands for almost four months and is starting to lose patience. Others have been waiting for more than a year to move on with their lives.