Spain seeks diplomatic deals to stem Canary Islands migrant surge

Spain is to send two senior ministers to Senegal and Morocco to try and stop soaring numbers of migrants heading to the Canary Islands, which are overwhelmed by new arrivals.

Spain seeks diplomatic deals to stem Canary Islands migrant surge
Migrants from a group of 1,300 rescued from different boats remain in the port of Arguineguin on Gran Canaria. Photo: Desiree Martin/AFP
Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya will head to Senegal on Sunday, while Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska will travel to Morocco on November 20, the islands' regional policy chief Carolina Darias said Friday.
The government “wants to encourage the diplomatic path” to ensure “nobody risks their life getting aboard one of these boats,” she said.
The two ministers have recently visited other African nations which are popular departure points for migrants hoping to reach Europe such as Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania and landlocked Chad.
At the same time, she said, Madrid would also tighten security around the Canary Islands, which lie around 100 kilometres (60 miles) off Morocco's western coast.
And the government would add several more ships as well as a submarine, a helicopter and a plane to the existing fleet patrolling the waters between the African coast and the volcanic archipelago.
A similar strategy was adopted by Madrid in 2006 when some 30,000 migrants reached the Canary Islands.
At the time, Spain stepped up patrols and signed treaties with countries like Senegal and Mauritania to stem the flow, often in exchange for financial aid.
'Doomed to failure'
But rights groups said the strategy was unlikely to work.
“In 2006, they tried to impose strict border controls at the point of origin.. but it didn't stop people from coming,” said Virginia Alverez, head of research at Amnesty International in Spain, explaining the migrants simply took other routes.
“They want to transfer responsibility to third countries and that is doomed to failure,” she told AFP.
And Judith Sunderland, acting deputy director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch agreed.
“That might work in the short term but it doesn't work in the long term,” she told AFP. “You close one route and another route opens and usually, that new route is more expensive and more dangerous.”
The route from western Africa to the Canaries is notoriously dangerous, but it has once again become popular with migrants as authorities have cracked down on other Mediterranean routes.
There has been a surge in migrant arrivals in the Canary Islands in recent months after the EU reached border control agreements with Morocco, Libya and Turkey.
So far this year, more than 16,000 migrants have reached the Canary Islands — nearly 10 times the number that arrived in the whole of 2019.
Last weekend alone, the number of people reaching the islands spiked with more than 2,000 arrivals — including a record 1,400 on one day.
Overcrowded port
Earlier this week, Amnesty and HRW called for urgent changes at Arguineguin port on Gran Canaria where some 1,800 people are staying at a temporary encampment that was only set up to process arrivals.
“The situation at the port is complicated, there is a huge amount of people,” admitted Inigo Vila, head of emergencies at the Red Cross, who is running the operation.
HRW's Sunderland, who visited the port on November 7 before the huge weekend influx, said migrants were sleeping on the ground with one portable toilet to serve 30 to 40 people.
“Even if it was not over capacity, the conditions wouldn't respect their dignity,” she said on Friday.
The government has vowed to dismantle the temporary camp and move the migrants to military sites elsewhere on the archipelago.

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INTERVIEW: ‘It’s a way to jokingly show that Sweden is very segregated’

Michael Lindgren, the comedian and producer behind the new Swedish TV quiz show Invandrare för Svenskar, or "Immigrants for Swedes', tells The Local how the seemingly superficial game show is actually very serious indeed.

INTERVIEW: 'It's a way to jokingly show that Sweden is very segregated'

SVT’s new gameshow Invandrare för Svenskar (IFS) began with a simple image on a computer. 

“I wanted to do something to show the simple fact that the category of invandrare [immigrant] is a really stupid category,” says Michael Lindgren, the co-founder of the Swedish comedy group Grotesco, and creator of Invandare för Svenskar

“I was just playing around with pictures of people with different values and professions and personalities to like, show the multitude of humanity, and then I placed an ethnic Swede in the middle and I built a block of people with different backgrounds around that blonde person. and I was thinking it would be fun to put a Swede in the minority.” 

It was only when a friend pointed out that the image he had made looked like the famous quiz game Hollywood Squares, a big 1980s hit in Sweden as Prat i kvadrat, that the idea to turn the image into a game show came about. 

Shortly afterwards, he contacted the show’s host, the comedian Ahmed Berhan, and began working with him and some of the other celebrities with immigrant backgrounds on the concept. 

The panelists on Invandrare för Svenskar.

Critics in Sweden are divided over the new gameshow, in which ordinary Swedes have to guess whether celebrity immigrants are lying or telling the truth about their home cultures. 

Karolina Fjellborg, at Aftonbladet, called it a “potential flop”, which was “forced and painfully shallow”. 

“And yet her paper, Aftonbladet, has written about it several times!” Lindgren exclaims when I mention this.  “Some people think it’s too stupid and glossy. It’s had rave reviews and very critical reviews, which I think is perfect.” 

He rejects the charge that the show treats a serious subject in too frivolous a way. 

“I’m an entertainer. I work in comedy. Of course, it’s superficial,” he says. “It’s a glossy game show on the surface, but underneath it’s a way to jokingly address the fact that we still think in these categories, that Sweden is a very segregated society, and we need to address that with more honesty.”

“The other point is that the idea of ‘immigrants’ as a group is absurd. It’s not a homogenous group. I think Swedes need to be faced with that, that the category is false. ‘Immigrants’ is useful as a statistical category, meaning people who actually migrated here. Most panelists in the show are born in Sweden, but Swedes tend to see them as immigrants anyway. For how many generations?”

He says his favourite moments in the show come when the contestants are nervous that they might give an answer that reveals them as prejudiced, and you can feel a slight tension, or the few moments when they do make an embarrassing mistake. 

Even though the atmosphere is deliberately kept as warm and light-hearted as possible, it’s these flashes of awkwardness, he feels, that reveal how uncomfortable many people in Sweden are about ethnic and cultural differences. 

It’s clearly something he thinks about a lot. Unlike immigration to countries like the UK or France, which are the result of long histories of empire, he argues, the immigration to Sweden, at least since the 1970s, has been driven by a sense of Lutheran guilt at the wealth the country amassed as a result of remaining neutral in the Second World War. 

Immigration, he argues, happened too quickly for the ordinary Swedish population to really understand the cultures of those arriving. 

Michael Lindgren, founder of ”IFS-invandrare för svenskar”. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
“I like to see Sweden as a little bit like The Shire in The Lord of the Rings,” he says. “It is located up in the corner of the map, peaceful and quite, with a very homogenous, old, peasant population. Historically shielded from the big world outside. Immigration is fairly new to Sweden, from outside Europe basically from the seventies onward, that is just fifty years ago. In what was in large part a political project from above.”
“And there is a discrepancy, because the majority population is still that old peasant population, and we didn’t learn a lot about the people coming here. We’re polite and friendly, but culturally very reserved, and I think that’s also about the climate, we don’t intermingle a lot. We don’t invite people into our homes easily.” 

According to Lindgren, the reception of the show has been great. Some of the show’s panel have a big following among Swedes with immigrant backgrounds, meaning it is drawing a demographic to Sweden’s public broadcaster that it normally struggles to reach. 

“The ambition is that the primary audience for this show is Swedes with mixed backgrounds, Swedes with a background in another country,” he says. “It’s a very tough demographic to reach. It’s a demographic that simply doesn’t watch public service, because it’s usually not made for them, and they seem to really enjoy it.” 

He has plans for the next series to include short factual segments. 

“I’m not saying I’m gonna make it serious. It’s supposed to be fun and jokey and entertaining and light, and I’m not going to change it in its core,” he says. “But I think it would add to the entertainment and variety to pause maybe twice in the show and say ‘this is actually true’, just stay at a point of discussion for 30 seconds, and maybe have a graphic to back it up.”