DE GRAN CANARIA, Spain (AP) – When hotel director Calvin Lucock and restaurant owner Unn Tove Saetran said goodbye to one of the last groups of migrants staying in one of the seaside resorts they manage in Spain’s Canary Islands, the British-Norwegian couple didn’t know when they would have guests again. Initially, they lost their tourism clientele to the , but things turned unexpectedly.
A humanitarian crisis unfolded on the archipelago, where tens of thousands of African men, women, and children arrived on rudimentary boats. The Spanish government – struggling to accommodate 23,000 people who disembarked on the islands in 2020 – contracted hundreds of hotel rooms left empty due to the. The deal not only helped migrants and asylum-seekers have a place to sleep but also allowed Lucock to keep most of his hotel staff employed.
But the contract ended in February, and thousands of people were transferred out of the hotels and into newly built large-scale migrant camps. Or so they thought. “We realized that we had a queue of people standing outside when we closed the doors,” said Saran, a former teacher, in a recent interview with The AssociatedPuerto Calma in southern Gran Canaria.
Satan said she couldn’t sleep in empty rooms, knowing the migrants would be left on the street. Some of the “boys,” as she calls them, had ended up on the streets after being expelled from government-funded reception centers. Others had chosen toreturns to their fled countries.
So they reopened the hotel doors again at their own expense.
“They were terrified, they didn’t have anywhere to go, and there wasn’t any other solution,” said Saetran, who has lived in the Canary Islands with Lucock since the ‘90s and has a Spanish-born daughter.
Today, the family, with the help of some of the hotel staff and other volunteers, provides food through Saetran’s restaurant, shelter through the hotel, and care to 58 young men, including eight unaccompanied minors, mainly from Morocco and Senegal as well as other West African countries, who fell out of the official migrant reception and integration system for one reason or another.
One is Fode Top, a 28-year-old Senegalese fisherman who left his country searching for better work in Europe last November. The fish in Senegal, he says, have disappeared from the ocean following years of industrial fishing by Chinese and European vessels. Nowadays, one can hardly make a living being a fisherman.
To make matters worse, Top’s 3-year-old son needed life-saving and expensive heart surgery. Top borrowed money he couldn’t pay back to pay medical bills, resulting in threats.
“If I return to Senegal, I will have problems. Many problems,” Top said.
The official camps have also been plagued with problems, with reports of overcrowding, insufficient food, unsanitary conditions, and lack of legal and medical assistance. Most recently, police intervened with rubber bullets in the largest camp on the island of Tenerife after a fight broke out between two groups of residents.
The Canary Islands and their year-round sunny beaches attract millions of northern European tourists yearly. But for the migrants at Puerto Calma, staying in the hotel is no vacation. The islands were meant to be a stepping stone toward stability, security, and employment in continental Europe, not their final destination. Today, it is a place of limbo for thousands who were denied access to the Spanish peninsula and live in waiting, unable to work and send money back to their families.
“They’ve come here looking for a better life, one of the reasons I came to Spain,” said 57-year-old Lucock. There’s only one difference: “They are not born with a European passport, so theytravel in the same way I can.”
On a recent evening, as they ate dinner, Saetran got aSix young men, including alleged minors, had been sleeping in the streets of Las Palmas for days. She looked at her husband, who runs the hotel, for approval. He rolled his eyes and took a deep breath.
The next day, the six boys arrived at the hotel carrying their belongings in safe and secure while they are here, then I feel like we’ve achieved something,” Lucock said. As the men wait south, Lucock and Saetran try to keep them busy. Volunteers come three times a week to give English and Spanish classes. The athletic ones play soccer on the beach or run up the mountain with locals. There are also a lot of checkers and .. Satan and Lucock welcomed them and gave them two rooms. Both of them know the hotel won’t be able to shelter migrants forever, but they have a place to sleep for now. “If we can play a small part in making them feel