Canary Islands: Tourism flatlines as refugees call volcanic isles new home

Canary Islands: Tourism flatlines as refugees call volcanic isles new home

In a normal year, it would be high tourist season for the Canary Islands, but a huge influx of migrants instead teem the streets, finding their new home in the Spanish archipelago.

With reception centres swamped and overrun after the arrival of more than 18,000 people this year — 10 times the number in 2019 — many have been put up in hotels and tourist apartments struck empty with the caps on international travel amid the pandemic.

Normally Puerto Rico’s springlike climate during high season draws up to 25,000 visitors, mostly from Scandinavia.

But the tourist resort, whose rocky ravines run down to the Atlantic seafront off the western coast of Morocco, echoes devoid of travellers.

In their place are some 1,500 migrants staying at hotels perched on its steep hillsides.

The biggest surge has been this autumn, with more than 12,000 arrivals since September, bringing back memories of 2006 when some 30,000 migrants flocked to the islands.

Overwhelmed by the influx, the authorities have been setting up temporary encampments to house new arrivals

But the migrant crisis has compounded the misery for the islands’ embattled tourism sector, which accounts for 35 percent of the Canaries’ GDP and had been hoping to claw back some of its losses after a year blighted by the pandemic.

“We’re not against migration but they need places to go. If a person spends money to come here, they don’t want to share a hotel with a migrant,” said Suarez, spokesman for a platform for the defence of tourism that is planning a demonstration Friday.

In Puerto Rico, where few places are open, hundreds of young migrants are wandering along the beach or hanging out in parks.

The atmosphere is “very tense”, says Eliazar Hernandez, a waiter at the Balcon Canario restaurant.

“Yesterday a customer told me: I’ve been here for four days, I’ve seen enough, I’m going back to Germany’,” he told AFP.

Along the seafront, where the temperature is a balmy 25 degrees Celcius (77 degrees Fahrenheit), shirtless Scandinavians often wonder past huddles of Senegalese teenagers.

Along the seafront, the huge Terraza Gran Canaria restaurant which has 60 staff, is closed. Outside, three employees are pinning up signs, one of which shows a coffin with the words “RIP hotel and catering sector”.

“Tourists are cancelling their holidays, they’re afraid and they’re not coming,” says Benaisa Mohamed, one of the staff who comes from Melilla, one of two Spanish enclaves in North Africa, his colleague from Sierra Leone nodding in agreement.

On the beach, Aliou Gueye, a gangly 17-year-old playing football with some other youngsters said: “I want to stay here, I like it and I’m learning Spanish.”

[Sourced from Agencies]

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