Children alone flee Africa to make the dangerous journey across the Atlantic, a route in which hundreds of people have died.
A refugee crisis is brewing in the Canary Islands, where tens of thousands of people fleeing North and West Africa have arrived in recent months.
More than 8,000 refugees and migrants arrived in the Spanish archipelago – located off the coast of northwest Africa – in November alone, a record number.
More people are taking the Atlantic route, which is considered more dangerous, after several Mediterranean Sea routes were blocked, with more patrols deterring people from attempting to cross.
Officials in the Canary Islands have sounded the alarm, especially as more and more children are making the boat trip. Since October, more than 2,000 of these children have arrived.
Among them, Diawoiye, 16, from Mali, fled conflict and economic insecurity in his own country before landing on the island of Gran Canaria.
He spent six days at sea making the trip.
“In Mali, there is a war now… my mother and father are there, and now they are getting old and there is no money, so I left and I came here”, he said. he told Al Jazeera.
More than 500 people have died at sea following the Atlantic route, most of them dead in October and November, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Children “ marked for life ”
The regional government of the Canary Islands has opened 21 emergency centers for unaccompanied children.
He has also repeatedly asked the Spanish government in Madrid, as well as the European Union, for additional financial assistance to deal with the unfolding situation.
Save the Children Catalina Perazzo said more needs to be done to support refugee children.
“They are overcrowded after making this life-threatening sea crossing, and they will need psychological support because of what they have seen and experienced,” she told Al Jazeera.
“For example, they have seen people die on board and be thrown into the sea, they have suffered from lack of food and some may have been victims of violence and, of course, being separated from their parents – all these factors can scare children for life. “
Mame Cheikh Mbaye, Federation of African Associations, said many children may have the support of their parents.
“Every young person is a community project,” he told Al Jazeera. “They are looking for a strategy to succeed in their project and they know that the children have a better chance of being able to stay in Europe.
Around 20,000 refugees and migrants have reached the Canary Islands so far this year, up from 2,557 in 2019.
Bernard Smith of Al Jazeera, reporting from Gran Canaria, said: “It is much more difficult to cross Libya and Morocco across the Mediterranean to Europe now, due to increased funding for maritime patrols for the Libyan and Moroccan coast guards – money donated by Europeans.
“Instead, people come here because there are fewer patrols along the West African coast, so it’s easier for them to get by.