Unwelcome Strangers in a Very Strange Land

By William J. Furney

MASPALOMAS — They move like spooked yet expectant ghosts in this fat land. Their exotic, ebony skin is an anomaly on an homogenous island renowned for its white wealthiness and excesses that turn men into elephants, or sextuplet-bearers, such is the appetite for the food of life and the means to pay for it. 

The dark-hued interlopers are slender — bone-skinny — with child-like eyes darting all around, as though they might miss a longed-for opportunity at any second, and they are hungry. The aching and unrelenting pangs lie not only in their starved stomachs but in their minds and spirits too; and now that their brief albeit perilous sea voyage has brought them to the promised land of Europe, they will surely, soon, be full with all their worldly desires: real work, real money, the chance to really live and experience life like those who have it all.

Only they’ve been turfed out of their migrant centre here on the Spanish island of Gran Canaria, 100km off the northwest coast of Africa, and hundreds are wandering around aimlessly: no money, no food, nowhere to go; and the searing sun and its 30C+ in late November is raising the stakes in what is fast becoming a humanitarian disaster. But if the central government in Madrid gets its way, the homeless and bereft may soon end up where they started, desolate, still poor and back in Africa. 

It’s the ultimate paradox: one of the most resource-rich places on the planet and where humankind started out — but desperately impoverished and many desperate to get out. 

Popular migrant routes into Europe have dried up, including to Greece via Turkey, from Libya to Italy and to Spain from Morocco, due to various agreements between the European Union and origin countries. The nearby Spanish archipelago of the Canary Islands — comprising Tenerife, Lanzarote, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, La Palma, La Gomera and La Graciosa — are a tempting target, however. They’re relatively easy to reach, in the rickiest of small boats, and there are large, unguarded and deserted coastal areas to land on. Getting to Europe has never been easier. 

But there are risks, and in October, around 140 migrants attempting to reach the Canary Islands from Senegal drowned after their boat caught fire, the International Organization for Migration, an arm of the United Nations, said. 

The agency says migrant arrivals on the sunshine islands popular with winter tourists from frigid northern European parts — from this week negative covid tests are required for entry — have ballooned to over 16,000 so far this year. State broadcaster RTVE said that’s a 1,000% increase on last year. 

They, mostly working-age young men who are clearly not refugees fleeing conflict, as some elements of the loony-left media try to portray, want our opportunities and money; they do not want our freewheeling, liberal values — and if you don’t believe it, you’re welcome to ask them about their attitudes to freedoms of expression and belief, their views on gay marriage, equal pay for women (perhaps even allowing women to work) and the other progressive and tolerant liberties Europeans enjoy. 

Here, people are celebrated for their decision not to believe in a god, to love whom they choose, regardless of gender, and to speak their mind and criticise — even governments. These are open and free societies where you won’t be flung in jail or even put to death for living life your way. 

We lampoon bumbling politicians and poke fun at Christianity and no one bats an eyelid. We create cartoons of the prophet Muhammad — banned under Islam — and draw fatal responses from Islamic militants. French teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded in Paris by a newly arrived Islamic terrorist last month for daring to have a discussion with his students about the importance of freedom of expression based on Charlie Hebdo drawings of Muhammad in 2015, republished in September, that resulted in an attack on the satirical magazine’s office by Islamic gunmen, who killed 12 staff. 

French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to uphold France’s secularism and freedoms and declared that Islam was a religion “in crisis”, as he announced a crackdown on “Islamic separatism”. Much of the Muslim world typically erupted in furious protests and called for bans on French products. 

If the Canary arrivals are not deported, as the Spanish government is threatening, and allowed to stay, will they integrate and adopt our values, or will they build walls around themselves and try to pretend they’re back in their conservative, freedom-loathing homes? 

As a person born into the Christian faith, which, like all other religions, I now deem nonsensical and unworthy of my time and thoughts, I fully integrated into society in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country: Indonesia, where I lived for 14 years. In Jakarta, I visited mosques, and was happy for my Muslim girlfriends to leap out of bed at dawn, shroud themselves in white garments, prostrate themselves on the floor and make the first of their five daily prayers to their sky-fairy, Allah. In Bali, I wore Hindu dress and visited temples and shrines, and attended cremations in fields. 

The government of Gran Canaria has asked the island’s many empty hotels, due to a covid lack of tourists, to take in the growing flood of migrants, and now they are getting a free taste of luxury tourist life. They’re wandering around beach and street areas in packs, surely wondering about this most boho of places where you’re freer to do what you like than in most other places in Europe if not the entire world. What do they make of the swinger resorts and clubs, the nudist beaches and the giant gay flags fluttering in the oftentimes violent wind?

MiGrant My Wishes? Will the African newcomers be tempted by the islands’ rather saucy offerings, which despite social distancing requirements remain open? (Photo: William J. Furney)

They will surely wish to move on from their Canary stepping stones, but they can forget about trying to get into Brexit Britain and its lockout of migrants. 

Officials from the IOM and UN High Commissioner for Refugees are in the Canary Islands “to gather information and assess the situation”, according to a bland statement. 

“The agencies’ visit will focus on a wide range of common interests, such as reception, profiles and needs of those arriving, the identification of people with international or other protection needs, the need to fight smuggling and trafficking in persons as well as issues related to the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people regardless of their migratory status,” it says. 

Translation: A lot of faffing about and doing, or achieving, very little at all, as is usually the case with highly paid UN workers, who think they’re out to save the world but the opposite is mostly true. And making a lot of noise about what should be done before retreating to the bar at their five-star resorts and feasting on the finest of food. 

The government in Madrid fears that if the new arrivals are permitted entry to mainland Spain, it might open the floodgates for tens of thousands of others to follow them to the Canary Islands. 

If they have something to contribute and are willing to properly learn the language and skill-up — and fully integrate and respect liberal European values and ways of life — let them in. If not, adios!

  • Newly arrived migrants from Africa — all clearly working-age young men — await processing in Gran Canaria this week, in the title image courtesy of my former employer, the Spanish international news agency EFE.

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