Migrants in Canary Islands on hunger strikes, self-harm


By Charlotte Oberti , IOM

Fearing deportation and racist attacks, migrants stranded in the Canary Islands have been on hunger strike recently to demand their transfer to the mainland. There have also been reports of self-mutilation.

Recent reports of self-harm, suicide attempts and hunger strikes among migrants in the Canary Islands have put a spotlight on the dire situation in which many of the recently arrived asylum seekers from the African continent are finding themselves.


According to the Spanish daily El Pais, a young Moroccan man recently cut his own leg 27 times with a razor after he learnt that his mother was to undergo liver surgery when she could not afford it.

Another slashed his belly. A third attempted to jump from the top of a building.

These acts of desperation are reportedly no longer the exception in the archipelago.

The situation for asylum seekers has become very complicated: As a result of Covid-19, transfers to the mainland for people considered to be vulnerable are extremely rare. This has lead to overcrowded accommodation facilities.

To deal with an overwhelming number of migrant arrivals in recent months, authorities hastily requisitioned hotels and military barracks to house the migrants. Left in uncertainty, many fear deportation.

“We suffer a lot of psychological pressure here,” explains Aziz Bouabid, a Moroccan, in El Pais, comparing his situation to indefinite imprisonment. “At least a prisoner knows how long his sentence will last. I don’t know when I will leave the Canary Islands and, in the meantime, my children are waiting for me to send them money”.

‘Europe or death’

At the beginning of February, migrants took to the streets to demonstrate, especially in Gran Canaria. Demanding a transfer to the mainland, some of them held up signs saying “Europe or death”.

On Saturday, February 6, about 450 Moroccans housed in a camp set up in a closed school also announced a hunger strike. They requested the assistance of their consular authorities to speed up the procedures.

A few days earlier, other migrants housed in a military centre had similarly protested their living conditions, denouncing the lack of hot water. This particular center has since been flooded due to bad weather, causing the sewers to overflow.

Moreover, tensions between migrants and locals have been building up in the archipelago. In addition to the anti-migrant demonstrations observed in recent months, a resurgence of racist attacks – threats and physical violence against foreigners – have recently taken place in several localities.

To manage the influx of migrants – more than 20,000 arrivals have been recorded on the archipelago in 2020 – the Spanish authorities have launched an emergency plan to create 7,000 temporary accommodation places in the Canary Islands.

The Spanish interior minister has announced that he wants to increase the number of deportations. According to El Pais, a plane carrying migrants is scheduled to leave for Senegal this month.