Holiday Club Puerto Calma presents itself as a paradise for winter sun lovers. The palm-fringed holiday apartment complex overlooks the Puerto Rico harbor of Gran Canaria, a resort town on Gran Canaria – the Spanish volcanic island washed up in the Atlantic, 150 km from the northwest coast from Africa where temperatures remain high – teenagers and 20-year-olds even during the winter months and it rarely rains.
The pandemic has effectively shut down places like Puerto Calma and the entire island economy, which relies on tourism. But as the tourism sector faced a crisis, a humanitarian emergency was also unfolding in Gran Canaria. Thousands of migrants from West Africa – principally from Morocco and Senegal – arrived on the coasts of the island in rudimentary boats. Struggling to accommodate the 23,000 new arrivals in 2020, the Spanish government has contracted out hundreds of empty hotel rooms for migrants.
The best was to be made of a bad situation, it seemed. Migrants had a place to stay, empty rooms were used, and for Calvin Lucock, manager of Holiday Club Puerto Calma, from Birmingham, England, that meant keeping employed staff who would otherwise have been made redundant.
Some migrants have gone through terrible hardships. Fode Top, a Senegalese fisherman staying at the hotel, Recount the Associated Press (AP) that he could no longer earn a living because the local waters had been drained by industrial methods used by Chinese and European ships. When her 3-year-old son needed life-saving surgery, Top went into debt for medical bills and was threatened. âIf I go back to Senegal, I will have problems. Lots of problems, âhe said.
Holiday Club Puerto Calma offered respite, but it was not a holiday. The migrants there are in limbo, unable to move on and build a new life.
However, not everyone could sympathize. Concern was boiling among timeshare owners who had been denied their sunny getaways during the pandemic, and disliked seeing their apartments being used by people like Top who hadn’t purchased the exclusive Holiday Club perks.
In November 2020, the Timeshare Consumer Association (TCA) published an article on its website about the situation. At the time, the organization said it was âreserving judgmentâ. But Daniel Keating of the TCA said: âMany members of Puerto Calma are angry with what they perceive to be the club giving something that is theirs to a third party.
On top of that, there are a number of owners who feel that the club’s decision to house illegal migrants goes against their own political views. The complaint is that support for refugees bypassing the process migration will encourage more people to make the dangerous crossing at sea. Members believe they should have been consulted before their means were used in this way.
A few days later, the TCA published another article highlighting the owners’ concerns. A three-week-old owner in Puerta Calma, under the pseudonym John, told the CAW that âAll owners have been notified by email of plans to move immigrants (they are not refugees because Calvin [Lucock] claim but illegal economic migrants) in Puerto Calma on the same day they started moving them.
âWe told the owners that we had no choice. We were told they would be refugee families fleeing war-torn sub-Saharan Africa, but they are all single young men looking for an easy way to enter Europe, âhe said. .
To make matters worse, John said that Unn Tove Saetran, Lucock’s Norwegian wife, who owns a restaurant in the complex, organized evenings of song and dance for the refugees upon their arrival. âThese activities were not available to paid members / owners when they stayed in August,â he said.
âThe owners are accused of being unreasonable, but we are told that our home is being used to house illegal immigrants, and we have to accept it without complaint. This goes against the principle on which it was sold, and I think it will have a negative impact on Puerto Calma, if not on the whole Holiday Club group. I am currently in the process of terminating my contract looking for a way out, and I know that others do the same. “
But Keating of the TCA had a warning for John and others like him: “We urge all homeowners seeking to escape their timeshare contracts to be cautious … before making any decisions about continued assistance in these areas. , timeshare owners are encouraged to contact our team for confidential and unbiased advice on which businesses can be trusted and which are fraudulent operators.
All of this put into perspective the problems of impoverished Senegalese fishermen whose livelihoods had been destroyed.
In February, Holiday Club Puerto Calma’s contract with the Red Cross ended and the migrants were transferred to new large camps built by the government. But fears of overcrowding and forced eviction have prompted many migrants to leave the migration system and return to hotels.
âWe realized we had a line outside when we closed the doors,â Saetran told AP.
Lucock and Saetran have decided to reopen the hotel to migrants, this time at their expense.
âThey were very scared, they had nowhere to go and there was no other way,â Saetran said.
âThese boys are lost. You can’t sit and watch fifty men who have nowhere to sleep or who will have to sleep under a blanket on the floor. I wanted to offer them a little security â, Lucock Recount the Independent.
âAnyone who has been through what my wife and I have been through in the past six months [looking after the migrants] would have been changed, or you should have been cast in stone or completely ignorant, âhe said.
The hotel is now caring for 58 young men, including eight unaccompanied minors, who have exited the system – with the help of a few volunteers and hotel staff.
Timeshare owners are still not convinced. A press release issued in August by the TCA said: “Longtime Holiday Club member Marina Starkey lashes out at Holiday Club boss and wife ‘greedy and selfish’ for ‘profiting at the expense of timeshare owners’, by renting out their paid weeks to shelter illegal economic migrants who, according to Marina, are almost exclusively healthy young men.
“Calvin and Unn Tove are pictured playing chess with illegal immigrants, hugging North African men and taking selfies with groups of them on the beach, smiling in modest bonhomie.”
Starkey told the TCA: “Calvin and Unn Tove are described as humanitarians and heroes. To us owners it seems rather that they are profiting at our expense and treating our beloved resort like a camp for illegal immigrants. .
“These people who arrived illegally with the help of human traffickers are overwhelmingly fit young men, with few or no wives and children.”
Lucock and Saetran plan to start a charity and continue helping migrants when tourism picks up, assuming timeshare owners don’t stymie their efforts.
âThey came here looking for a better life, one of the reasons I came to Spain,â Lucock told AP. The only difference in his eyes is that, “They weren’t born with a European passport, so they can’t travel the same way I do,” Lucock said.