Las Raíces, the macrocamp of Tenerife that holds thousands of dreams in the middle of nowhere

Just over seven kilometers separate the Tenerife North airport from the Las Raices migrant camp. A short ten minute drive takes more than six hundred people sheltered in this former military barracks of the objective of their migratory project: continental Europe. A winding dirt road leads to the emergency resource with the largest capacity in the Canary Islands (2,000 people), which last Friday began to accommodate men who arrived in boats and cayucos to the Archipelago. Among the trees, which cover the few rays of sunlight that cross the place, a set of white huts captures the eyes of the few residents who pass through the area, away from the urban center of La Laguna. Sitting on a cut log, Adib * lets time pass with a piece of paper that collects a dozen Spanish expressions translated into Arabic. “Hello, how are you?”, Can be read on the folio. If you ask him, his answer is forceful: “The situation is catastrophic. We are frozen, the food is little and many people sleep in the same cell,” he tries to explain with a translator online.

At the age of 26, Adib left Dajla behind in order to work in the tomato field in Almería. 52 days ago he arrived in Gran Canaria in a boat with 25 people, and a week ago he disembarked in Tenerife. Karim is by his side, and he only thinks about his family, his children and the future. “We have no idea where we are going. We don’t want to return to Morocco, but if the government expels us, we can’t do anything.” People from Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania and Senegal live in the Las Raices camp. Adib and Karim explain that sometimes they are scared, because there are conflicts within the resource. “I understand. We are here without work, without money, without being able to do anything. There are many nerves, “they report. In addition, they explain that many different people live in small tents where at least twelve sleep on cots and with a single blanket each to keep warm, in an area where minimum temperatures are below ten degrees per cent. nights and the relative humidity is very high.

Baba, born in Nouakchott, wanders through the cold surroundings of the center. To his right, a Mauritanian man with a friendly smile accompanies him with his hands in his pockets. To his left, another compatriot dressed in sports clothes and a towel around his neck tries to do some sport. Baba arrived in a canoe to El Hierro after a five-day journey. He spent almost a month on the most western island of the Archipelago and then was transferred to Las Raices. He has requested international protection, because in Mauritania the situation is “unsustainable”. With slow speech and fixed gaze, he tells what life is like in his country. “We have become a kind of modern slave. We work a lot for a paltry salary.” In addition, the disputes between the different ethnic groups have left a warlike climate. The young Mauritanian speaks French, Wolof and Fula. For a time he lived in Senegal, but he has not been able to continue his studies.

As he speaks, a group of Moroccans approaches. Among them, a young man with green eyes and desperate eyes wants to be heard. “Please, we don’t want clothes, we don’t want money, we don’t want this. We just want to work and learn to send money to our family.” His classmates nod their heads, and smile when the boy confesses that his dream is to be a hairdresser.

Everyone is saddened by the bad looks of some Canarian residents. “They tell us to go to our country. Sometimes we prefer not to get too close to the people,” says Adib. “There is a bit of everything. We cannot say that all Spaniards are racists,” Baba clarifies. The City Council of La Laguna has opted for communication to avoid racist outbreaks among the Tenerife population. The corporation has set up an email for residents to ask their questions about the center of Las Raices. The intention is that “the public knows all the information about this emergency device.” It is also expected that members of the municipal government will visit the neighborhoods for this purpose.

CIE’s Canarias Libre platform has organized an assembly to accompany the people held in the La Laguna macrocenter managed by the NGO Accem, after denouncing their transfer to the old barracks. “The derivation of the first group occurred in the middle of a hail storm, with an alert for snow, rain and wind. It is one of the areas with the lowest temperatures and the highest humidity. The tents and their distribution hardly comply with current health regulations against the pandemic “, they criticize.

Roberto Mesa, a member of the platform, explains that commissions have been created on materials, contacts, home, support, communication and legal. The objective is to find clothing and resources for migrants, advise them legally, look for translators, locate places where they can rent a room and accompany them to do their paperwork. “The problem is that they are concentrated in one place,” he says. Canarias Libre de CIE proposes that they be given the option of going to centers that can guarantee their care and integration into the population. But their main claim is that the Islands do not become the access stopper to Europe.

“Death is better than return”

The fear of being deported is also spreading to the neighboring island. “We want to leave here, that’s why we protest,” says Abdul Jalil. For days, inside the camp set up in the old CEIP León, in the El Lasso neighborhood of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, they have hung banners that read “immigration is not a crime, we are also human beings”; “death is better than return” or “the life of the dead”. Put into operation since December 18 with twelve tents and capacity for 300 people, it was the first of the seven camps announced in November by the Ministry of Migration to house 7,000 people arriving to the Islands through the Canary Route and progressively evicting the tourist complexes set up in the south of the island. Two months later, it is home to more than 400 migrants, mostly Moroccans, who on February 6 wanted to show their tiredness at being blocked in the Islands and expressed their fear of being deported. In addition, Jalil adds that food is scarce and that inside the building that used to be a school, conditions “are not good.”

They are free to leave the camp, but many prefer to stay in the surroundings, sitting in the vegetation or at bus stops, looking for the shade that protects them from the sun and that inside the reception center only exists inside the tents. Oussman, Ahmad and Hassan have reported to the racist attacks suffered, which have also been confirmed by representatives of Cruz Blanca, the foundation in charge of managing the device. On January 30, dozens of people demonstrated on the outskirts of CEIP León and threw stones inside the compound; that same day, racist protests spread from the San Fernando neighborhood, in the south of the island, to La Isleta, in the capital, after several weeks of escalating tension in Gran Canaria due to the institutional management of immigration in the Archipelago.

The discontent of the residents of El Lasso, a neighborhood with a high level of unemployment and poverty, was evident since October, when the Mayor of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Augusto Hidalgo, and the Minister of Migration, José Luis Escrivá , they visited the facilities that the City Council would give. There, neighbors of the neighborhood rebuked the head of the municipality when they felt cheated by offering the space for humanitarian uses “and not for their children.”

About 13 kilometers from CEIP León, Muhammad returns to another of the camps set up to house migrants in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: the old Canarias 50 infantry regiment on loan from the Ministry of Defense. He says he has been inside for more than 20 days and has only one thought in mind: “I want a job to help my family in Morocco, have food, clothes and a house. That is my dream.” At 22 years old, he remembers that he worked in agriculture and in November he decided to embark on a boat to Spain. Now he spends time talking to his colleagues, playing soccer inside or walking around the reception center, located in the El Sebadal industrial estate, in the La Isleta neighborhood. The camp began operating on January 15 with 442 places in a first phase, but when it is completed, it will be able to accommodate 1,320 people.

On February 5, part of the space flooded with fecal waters after a strong storm in the capital of Gran Canaria. The mayor explained that there was an overflow of the sewer system and they worked with Emalsa, the municipal water company, to unclog it. In the images recorded inside, it can be seen that the water entered one of the tents and reached above the ankles. By way of protest, the migrants held up a banner announcing a hunger strike. Surrounded by high walls crowned with barbed wire, there are twelve operational tents inside, separated from another dozen that are still inoperative. The hanging clothes are spread throughout the camp.

Aware that their fate is reduced to these macro-centers, deportation or the street, some thirty Moroccans protested in the south of Gran Canaria on February 6, expressing their refusal to be expelled or transferred to the Las Raices camp. “We want a solution for immigrants. We don’t want to go to Tenerife, we don’t want to go to Morocco, we want to go to Barcelona or Madrid,” read one of the banners.

*Fictitious name.

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