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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Migrants' Treatment In Spain Criticized

MADRID -- Hundreds of migrant children held in emergency centers in the Spanish Canary Islands are living in squalid, overcrowded conditions and facing the risk of abuse from their custodians, Human Rights Watch, the rights advocacy group, said Thursday.

In a report, the group called for the immediate closing of centers set up last year to deal with a wave of illegal migrants to the islands, where it said the children were living in prison-like facilities and being deprived of their basic rights.

"They must immediately come up with a plan to close these centers," said Simone Troller, the author of the report and a children's rights researcher for Human Rights Watch in Europe. "While these centers continue to exist, we believe children continue to be at risk."

If the situation is as described, it would leave a stain on Spain's otherwise positive record in dealing with the huge influx of Africans who have been going to the Canary Islands with the hope of finding homes in European Union countries.

About 30,000 people came ashore in crude boats last year.

The report focused on several hundred minors who had arrived unaccompanied and have been housed in four emergency centers as well as smaller children's homes.

Identifying longer-term facilities where they can receive proper care in Spain has proved politically difficult for the central government, because such facilities are operated by regional governments. Despite promises by the central government to move most of the 1,144 children who have entered the islands in the past 18 months to permanent care facilities, only 385 have been relocated so far, the Canary Islands government said.

Officials from the Canary Islands government, which runs the facilities, said in a statement that the Human Rights Watch report lacked rigor and that an internal investigation had failed to corroborate its findings.

They said nonetheless that the facilities were overstretched and agreed they should be closed. Taking care of unaccompanied migrant children properly and setting up education programs requires long-term financing, the statement said.

"We emphasize, once again, the responsibility of the central government to distribute these children on the mainland," the statement said.

While last week, Spanish coast guard boats stopped searching for more than 50 immigrants who were lost at sea after their boat capsized south of the Canary Islands, a government source said on July 21.

About 100 Africans were trying to migrate to Europe in a long, open-topped wooden boat when it was hit by a huge wave before dawn.

The Spanish coast guard, who had just drawn alongside the boat, managed to rescue 48 survivors, but the rest were believed lost in rough seas about 89 nautical miles southwest of the resort island of Tenerife.

Two merchant ships, four coast guard vessels, a helicopter and a plane had been involved in the search for survivors, and a source at the government's office said a radio device had been left behind that would continue to look for any signs of life at the shipwreck site.

Authorities believe thousands of Africans died last year attempting to reach the Canaries, hundreds of miles from the African coast. Most disappeared at sea without trace, bodies sometimes washing up days later on African shores.

NYT, Reuters