More than 4,700 African migrants have reached the Canaries since January [AP]


A group of 149 migrants has arrived in Spain's Canary Islands after a Spanish rescue ship picked them up from a boat in the Atlantic ocean.
 
According to officials, the African migrants were making their journey in a flimsy and overcrowded wooden boat, which was taking on water, and almost half of them did not know how to swim.

The migrants, including two women and several minors, were taken aboard the ship and taken to El Hierro, the smallest and most south-western of the Canary Islands on Thursday.

Like Sicily, Malta, and Lampedusa, the Canary Islands have become a magnet in recent years for mainly sub-Saharan immigrants.

Immigrants caught on the islands or its waters are returned to their home countries but the process can take months, and the islands have been swamped by a surge in African migration in recent years.

More than 4,700 African migrants have reached the Canaries since January, despite tighter surveillance of the African coastline in recent months by the European Union Border Patrol Agency, Frontex.

Last year, a record 31,000 migrants arrived in the islands.

Unknown number of  deaths

An unknown number of migrants die each year while desperately trying to make the crossing, often in un-seaworthy vessels or rubber dinghies.

"The Canary Islands government should close these centres and arrange better care for the children"
Last week, some 50 African migrants died after their boat capsized in heavy seas near the Canary Islands while they were being rescued by two Spanish ships.

With such high numbers, humanitarian agencies have urged European Mediterranean states to do more to help.

Spain, Italy, France, Malta and Greece are busy patrolling the North African coastline, but the migrants are still determined to make the desperate crossing in search of a better future.

In a report issued on Thursday, an international human rights group sharply criticised Spain for holding hundreds of migrant children in appalling conditions on the islands.

Human Rights Watch said the detained African children are at risk of violence and even sexual abused in Spanish government migrant detention centres in the Canary Islands.

Detention centres

Children at the four centres established to cope with a surge in illegal migration to the Canaries last year complained of beatings by staff and of a lack of protection from violence by peers, the human rights lobby group said in a report which the island government said lacked proof.

Simone Troller, Europe children's rights researcher for Human Rights Watch in Madrid, said: "These children should be protected by the Spanish authorities, not left to suffer beatings and abuse.

"The Canary Islands government should close these centres and arrange better care for the children."

According to Human Rights Watch, a 17-year-old boy at the La Esperanza centre said: "One boy got into trouble with [a staff member]. That day the [staff member] took him to the shower and beat him up. There was blood in the boy's mouth and his clothes were full of blood."

Another boy said: "When we tell them that we are hungry they tell us that we were starving in Senegal and should be happy to be given food at all."

But the Canary Islands' regional government said it had initiated an internal investigation in February after Human Rights Watch first told it of the abuses described in the report only presented on Thursday and found no evidence for them.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies