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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 September 2006, 14:14 GMT 15:14 UK
Migrants prompt tourism fears
By Dominic Bailey
BBC News, Tenerife

African migrants in an overloaded boat
Nearly 19,000 migrants have arrived in the Canary Islands this year
The Canary Islands are at bursting point.

Not the beaches and hotels that cater for millions of tourists each year, but the police stations, courts and detention centres being used to house the boatloads of illegal immigrants risking the ocean crossing from west Africa.

It has reached the point where some local authorities are publicly opposing efforts to expand existing centres or open new ones to house them while they are processed and either repatriated or sent to the Spanish mainland.

In the resort harbour of Los Cristianos in Tenerife, 57 immigrants arrived in one boat on Saturday morning - including one man who was too ill to walk. Hours before a cayuco - as these Senegalese fishing boats are called - was escorted in with 81, before that 105.

I feel sorry for those that make the crossings, but it is a good thing they are being kept in the centres
Juan Antonio Garcia Toledo
Local fisherman

The Spanish government delegation to the islands has admitted the security forces are at their limit and lack resources.

Government representative Jose Segura told Tenerife radio station Cadena Cope that tents have been put up in the barracks at Las Raices and Hoya Fria, where more than 4,396 are already being held.

But the Mayor of La Laguna Ana Oramas, whose district includes Las Raices, said enough is enough and solidarity had its limits.

Crane lifting migrant boat from the sea
Migrants travel from the African coast in rickety fishing boats

"La Laguna has acted in solidarity and understanding regarding the humanitarian drama and emergency situation that the Canary Islands are suffering ...

"However the installation of two new major centres in former military barracks will concentrate in one municipality, La Laguna, the biggest proportion of immigrants who have arrived, and those yet to come, not only in the Canaries and Spain but in Europe."

Fears for tourism

The statement urged the governments of Spain and the Canary Islands to open new centres on the Spanish mainland to deal with the unfolding humanitarian crisis as it develops.

African immigrant
Las Raices: 3,076
Hoya Fria: 1,320
Playa de las Americas police station: 800

The Canary Islands depend on tourism and many local people fear the immigrant situation could affect their livelihoods.

The hotel association Ashotel says the tourist situation is normal at the moment.

Juan Carlos Lorenzo, of the Tenerife Association for Quality Tourism, says some members are worried that the immigrant arrivals could affect the islands' image abroad. "There are general concerns from a personal and professional point of view," he said.

But he says most tourists in their hotels are unaffected by the cayucos' arrival and can pass the holiday without even seeing a boat.

Public alarm

Daniel Martin, who is responsible for the beaches around Los Cristianos and Playa de las Americas, says it is not the right place to bring them to port.

Three African immigrants
Around 5,000 African migrants have been repatriated so far

"You have to realise the public alarm that the operation to respond to each landing generates. The large numbers of police, the ambulance sirens interfere with and alter the intense activity of one of the biggest centres for tourism in the Canaries," he told El Dia newspaper.

Other locals share his fears. Fisherman Juan Antonio Garcia Toledo, 28, from Los Cristianos, says everyone has had enough of the daily arrivals.

"Ignorant people are starting to get worried about buying fish because they say there are dead bodies in the sea, but so far it hasn't affected sales.

"I feel sorry for those that make the crossings, but it is a good thing they are being kept in the centres and not letting them free, otherwise no one would come."

Retired fisherman Gregorio Perez, 73, says: "What are we to do? It will affect tourism and everything. The government has to do more."

Map of migrant routes from Africa to Europe

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