Apartamentos Puerto Bello, the ‘black hole’ for the reception of unaccompanied minors in the Canary Islands | Spain

Despite the fact that he is 22 years old, the Moroccan Zakaria entered the juvenile center set up in the Puerto Bello apartment complex in the tourist town of Puerto Rico (municipality of Mogán, Gran Canaria) in January. He escaped from the place in May and thus recalls his experience: “The fights and beatings were normal in Puerto Bello. They beat you anywhere and for any reason. For example, when I arrived with two other guys, a group came down and beat us right there at the entrance. I was able to escape through the reception. The other two did well ”. He says he knows that “some boys went out to sleep with men or women.”

An anonymous complaint, sent on May 31 to the Ministry of Social Rights, Equality, Diversity and Youth of the Government of the Canary Islands and the City Council of Mogán, and allegedly prepared by workers of the center, maintains that there are adults in the facilities, such as It demonstrates the case of Zakaria, a fact that the authorities have an obligation to prevent — and that they sexually assault others. Also, that several of the residents, “at least three”, have prostituted both with other colleagues and with outsiders. The letter also states that the management is aware of these events. The accusations also implicate other workers at the complex, who are attributed “physical attacks and continued abuse” and that these “negligent” episodes are “allowed and encouraged” by the management of the center, both past and current. The Juvenile Prosecutor’s Office investigates possible crimes in addition to the actions of the Siglo XXI Foundation, in charge of managing the complex. This organization remains silent and refers to the Ministry.

The Canarian Executive received the complaint on May 31, but did not inspect the center until June 10 and did not report the facts to the Prosecutor’s Office until four days later. That same day, June 14, the Minister of Social Rights, Equality, Diversity and Youth, Noemí Santana, from Unidas Podemos, ordered the transfer of 43 minors, the most problematic, to other resources.

A subsequent report by the general director of Child and Family Protection, Iratxe Serrano, revealed “the scarce educational intervention”, the lack of activities of minors, who spent “part of the day totally idle”, as well as “the disorder and dirt in the rooms and common spaces ”. The young residents complained of the “high conflict” of a group of 30 companions, some of them with features that showed their majority and “visible symptoms” of consuming “toxins and alcohol.” Zakaria confirms this point: “Many of those who lived there took pills or smoked hashish.” They even did it “in front of the educators.”

Ayoub, another 19-year-old Moroccan, one of the first residents of Puerto Bello, also confirms the facts. He has lived on the street for a month and a half. “It is difficult to explain what was happening there,” he says. He lists a string of accusations against management and employees, whom he accuses of selling and using drugs. “They brought you alcohol, pills … whatever you wanted if you paid.”

That there were problems in the center of Puerto Bello has been known for months. In February, a kind of mutiny of minors damaged several rooms, according to the workers’ complaint. The situation is not exclusive to the center of Gran Canaria: in mid-April, Comisiones Obreras denounced the working conditions of another’s employees on the island of Fuerteventura due to overcrowding and the repeated, and increasingly serious, “acts of violence against workers and the direction of the center ”. The union pointed out to the Prosecutor’s Office and the public administrations for a problem that, it understood, “extends over time.”

The President of the Canary Islands, Ángel Víctor Torres (center);  the vice president, Román Rodríguez (left);  and the Minister of Social Rights, Noemí Santana (right), in front of the Government headquarters in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
The President of the Canary Islands, Ángel Víctor Torres (center); the vice president, Román Rodríguez (left); and the Minister of Social Rights, Noemí Santana (right), in front of the Government headquarters in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.Angel Medina G. / EFE

The seriousness of the events reported in Puerto Bello have made this apartment complex the black hole of the reception of minors and an illustrative example of the blockade that surrounds the management of the 2,539 unaccompanied migrant minors that currently exist on the islands. The case has shown that children and adults have lived in the same spaces for months. The Ministry of Social Rights admits that there are situations of minors living with adults, especially in the two camps in Tenerife (Las Canteras and Las Raíces), and estimates that the number of adults living in facilities dedicated to minors amounts to almost half a thousand.

Crossing of accusations

The case of Puerto Bello has caused a cross accusation between the Ministry of Social Rights and the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office of Las Palmas that has splashed other organizations, such as the National Police.

At present, up to 1,743 young people are awaiting tests to determine their age, 68% of the total number of those under guardianship. These figures show the difficulties of an intricate system, hampered by the pandemic. The problem arises already at the foot of the dock, when the National Police must identify the adults and minors.

But this process has shown gaps in these months, in which minors have been referred to adult centers and adults to juvenile centers. The Office of the Prosecutor constitutes the beginning and the end of the process. Its owner asks Health to do bone tests. For this, the National Police transfers the alleged minor to the hospital where they will be carried out. Afterwards, the forensics of the Institute of Legal Medicine study the results and prepare a report that they submit to the Prosecutor’s Office, which, finally, issues an age determination decree.

Canary Islands Government sources charge the Prosecutor’s Office with most of the responsibility for the blockade. The counselor Noemí Santana explained last week that some 250 people remain in foster care for minors “with a bone test carried out or with documentation that proves their majority, pending the decree of the Prosecutor’s Office. Sometimes the responsibility falls on the security forces. According to Santana, there are up to 16 accredited adults in a juvenile center who are still waiting to be transferred by the National Police ”. The chief prosecutor of the province of Las Palmas, Beatriz Sánchez, admits these delays, but assures that it is a widespread evil. “Obviously, it is not up to date,” he admits, “but just like the government, it is not. They are all late ”.

The absence of the decree issued by the Prosecutor’s Office has serious consequences. In the first place, it prevents the effective separation of the elderly, emphasize sources of Health. “Although we know for sure that they are older, without this process we cannot transfer them.”

Zakaria and Ayoub are two examples of this. The first assures that on several occasions he showed his Moroccan identity card, in which he was of legal age. “I even showed it to the director, but they left me there.” He preferred to live on the street before to continue on the device. Ayoub wanted to leave the center assuring that he is an adult. The blocking in the tests, in addition, has other consequences, maintains the counseling, such as stopping the schooling of the ward.

The difficult management

The guardianship of unaccompanied minors arrived in the Canary Islands has overwhelmed the regional government. The Executive chaired by Ángel Víctor Torres has opened 30 emergency devices since 2019 (19 in Gran Canaria, 9 in Tenerife and 2 in Fuerteventura), whose management he entrusted to five collaborating entities. Some of these resources were located in tourist accommodation, empty by the pandemic, which caused the angry protests of consistories such as Mogán, which threatened to open disciplinary proceedings against the establishments. At present, there are still two hotel establishments destined for this purpose in Gran Canaria, both in Mogán, with a total of 208 beds. In Tenerife there are two others, one in Puerto de la Cruz and another in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, with 130 seats.

“The need for help is urgent, this is a desperate cry for collaboration with the Canary Islands,” the Minister of Social Rights told EL PAÍS last October. Basically, both Santana and President Torres are demanding more funds and the referral of minors to other communities. In December a grant of 10 million was started from the Ministry of Social Rights. To date, referrals to other communities amount to 223, according to the Executive itself.

Migrants, meanwhile, are the hardest hit. “I wanted to have a life in Barcelona and send money home,” says Ayoub. “Now I wish I had never come.”