Children are fleeing Africa alone on the dangerous journey across the Atlantic that has killed hundreds.
A refugee crisis is looming in the Canary Islands, in which tens of thousands of people from North and West Africa have arrived in recent months.
In November alone, more than 8,000 refugees and migrants arrived in the Spanish archipelago off the coast of northwest Africa – a record.
Greater numbers of people are using the Atlantic route, which is believed to be more dangerous after several Mediterranean routes were blocked and more patrols are preventing people from attempting crossings.
Canary Islands officials have sounded the alarm, especially as more and more children are arriving by boat. More than 2,000 such children have arrived since October.
Among them was 16-year-old Diawoiye from Mali, who fled conflict and economic uncertainty in his own country before disembarking on Gran Canaria.
He spent six days at sea and made the journey.
“There’s a war going on in Mali now … my mom and dad are over there and now they’re getting old and there’s no money so I went and came here,” he said to Al Jazeera.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 500 people have died at sea on the Atlantic route, with most dying in October and November.
Children “scarred for life”
The regional government of the Canary Islands has opened 21 emergency call centers for unaccompanied children.
It has also repeatedly asked the Spanish government in Madrid, as well as the European Union, for more financial support to deal with the developing situation.
Save the Children’s Catalina Perazzo said more needs to be done to support the refugee children.
“They are in an overcrowded condition after this life-threatening crossing and need psychological support based on what they have seen and been through,” she told Al Jazeera.
“For example, they have seen people die on board and thrown into the sea, they have been deprived of food, and some may have experienced violence and, of course, separation from their parents – all of these factors can frighten the children’s lives.”
Mame Cheikh Mbaye of the Federation of African Associations said many of the children may have had their parents’ support.
“Every young person is a community project,” he told Al Jazeera. “You [the parents] Look for a strategy to make your project a success and you will know that the children will have more chances to stay in Europe. “
So far this year around 20,000 refugees and migrants have reached the Canary Islands, up from 2,557 in 2019.
Bernard Smith of Al Jazeera, reporting from Gran Canaria, said: “It is now much more difficult to get from Libya and Morocco across the Mediterranean to Europe as the funds for maritime patrols for the Libyan and Moroccan coast guards are increased – money that the Europeans have provided.
“Instead, people come this way because there is less patrol along the West African coast and it is easier for them to negotiate.”