Africa's shifting population: When two worlds collide... on a Tenerife beach

The arrival of 200 desperate migrants on a Tenerife beach prompted a heart-warming display of human solidarity
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The Independent Online

They have the same climate and the same thirsty landscape but the Canary Islands are out of Africa and in another world: our world, a richer, safer, more dependable world than the badlands of Western Sahara that lie across the water.

Africa is a hop, skip and jump away, a day and a night's sail with a good outboard, half an hour in a little plane. But it is out of sight and well out of mind. But, looked at from the continent, the Canaries are the doorway to Europe, the doorway to some kind of hope. More than 11,000 Africans have streamed through that door so far this year, twice the figure for 2005.

Worlds collide here, but they can scarcely be said to meet. And when poverty and plenty collide, they don't know what to do with their eyes. The Brits and the Spaniards and the Germans on these beaches are here because they have money and spare time to burn. The Africans are here because they have nothing left but hope. They no longer have any money - the trip across the Sahara costs thousands of dollars, often the pooled resources of an entire extended family. They have no passport, no identity papers that would cause them to be sent straight back where they have come from. They often have nothing but the shorts they stand up in. Emblematically poor, they stagger ashore on beaches where near-nudity signifies something else altogether.

But yesterday in Tenerife, the worlds met. Three of the flimsy matchwood boats coated in pitch and crammed with people came ashore at La Tejita, a beach crowded with sunbathers, and disgorged 205 new arrivals. All were exhausted, many suffering from extreme thirst and exposure.

Towels were wrapped around them, bottles of water pressed to cracked lips. The sunbathers helped the Africans in every way they could, until police and Red Cross workers arrived. Later, eight of the migrants were taken to hospital suffering from hypothermia and dehydration, according to the Red Cross.

Europe appears to have no clue what do about the surge of sea-borne arrivals that is growing staggeringly year by year. Fortress Europe-style solutions are mooted, task forces proposed, but the only long-term solution is for the return of prosperity and stability to the countries of Africa. Until that happy event, the sad boats will continue to roll up on the rich, happy beaches.