Spain opens 2nd migrant camp on overrun Gran Canaria island

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FILE - In this Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020 file photo, migrants from Morocco walk along the shore escorted by Spanish police after arriving at the coast of the Canary Island, crossing the Atlantic Ocean sailing on a wooden boat. Spains government is scrambling to manage the steady stream of migrants to its Canary Islands from West Africa by opening a second holding camp, officials said Wednesday Nov. 18, 2020, as political tensions rise in the Atlantic archipelago. (AP Photo/Javier Bauluz, File)

BARCELONA – Spain’s government is scrambling to manage the steady stream of migrants to its Canary Islands from West Africa by opening a second holding camp, officials said Wednesday, as political tensions rise in the Atlantic archipelago.

The establishment of a second temporary migrant processing center on the island of Gran Canaria comes amid increasing criticism from local authorities and human rights groups. Officials on the ground say that they can't adequately care for the thousands of migrants who have arrived by boat in recent weeks.

Spain’s Interior Ministry said authorities relieved pressure on an overrun makeshift shelter packed with nearly 2,300 migrants on the island's southwest coast by transferring around 200 of its occupants to a second camp set up on grounds provided by the military.

A pier on the quiet southwest coast of Gran Canaria has become the center of Spain’s ongoing humanitarian crisis. Thousands of migrants who have survived the perilous journey in flimsy wooden or rubber boats have been kept on the Arguineguín pier for days on end. With the installation originally planned to shelter 400 people in Red Cross tents, many have slept on the concrete and spent hours exposed to the sun.

Officially, police can hold migrants who arrive without authorization for 72 hours, unless they need to be kept longer to complete a quarantine for testing positive for COVID-19. Municipal authorities said that 79 of those currently held on the pier had tested positive for the virus.

Humanitarian groups, however, said that various migrants they have interviewed say that they have spent longer than three days on the pier.

The new camp opening Wednesday will be able to hold 800 people in tents, according to the Interior Ministry. It has been set up at a decommissioned military ammunition dump at Barranco Seco. New arrivals, the ministry said, can be taken directly to the new camp instead of being held at the pier if needed.

The relief for the pier comes a day after 197 migrants were released from there without any provisions being made to house or feed them. That led to confusion among the migrants and residents.