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Spain: More child migrants are arriving alone to the Canary Islands than ever before. This is what happens to them.

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Spain: More child migrants are arriving alone to the Canary Islands than ever before. This is what happens to them.
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Abou, from West Africa’s Ivory Coast, boarded an inflatable dinghy alongside four other children, and a mother and her baby, all bound for the Canary Islands, in search of a better life. They arrived on the island of Fuerteventura in June 2020 after a full day’s journey from southern Morocco.

For years, migrants and refugees from sub-Saharan Africa have followed a well-worn path north, boarding traffickers’ boats in Libya, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria to take them across the Mediterranean to Spain and Italy.

Spain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says around 23,000 migrants arrived in the Canary Islands from Africa in 2020 — more than seven times the number of arrivals in 2019. And almost 2,600 of them were, like Abou, unaccompanied minors — more than three times 2019’s numbers — Canary Islands’ government data shows.

That has left authorities there with a challenge: How to care for those who arrive safely.

Spain had for years resisted the far-right movements seen in many other European nations, but anti-migrant sentiment has been steadily growing in recent years, alongside the rise of the country’s ultranationalist Vox party.

Refugees in an open boat land between sunbathing tourists on the beach at Los Cristianos, on December 10, 2020.

On the Canary Islands, though, some families are taking part in a scheme run by the local government and SUMAS, a non-profit organization, by offering temporary foster care for migrant children like Abou.

He now lives on the island of Tenerife with a couple, Victor Afonso Feliciano, 50, and Adelaida Delgado Alonso, 52, the owners of an organic supermarket, who have no children of their own. Abou is the first child the couple have taken in.

“When the program first started, it was about taking in any young child, whether they were a migrant or Spanish,” Afonso Feliciano told CNN. “But we decided specifically from the beginning that our objective was taking in a young child that came from abroad. It was driven by our desire to help change the migrant crisis in our own little way.”

Delgado Alonso said: “They have come because of need. No one gets on a boat at 11 years old, like Abou has, because they are OK. They have taken the risk at sea because they don’t have a future. Abou was lucky he arrived on land because the vast majority don’t make it.”

Poverty levels rising

The pandemic has complicated authorities’ handling of new arrivals, according to Gemma Martinez Soliño, the islands’ deputy minister for human rights.

“The migrant crisis quickly became not only a humanitarian problem but a health one too,” she said. “We had to come up with a system so that we could test all those who were arriving and create spaces where we would quarantine people with the virus.”

A group of migrants arrive at Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands on January 25, 2021. Their boat was carrying 52 men, eight women and three minors.

While Abou has found a family willing to give him a home, the islands have not been immune to the country’s anti-migration wave.

“Because of Covid, people are frustrated because there is no work,” Martinez Soliño said. “People perceive that there is a social crisis going on … and so sectors of the population are heeding more xenophobic attitudes which are heightened by fake news, the media and even some local authorities.”

A 2018 report by Impactur Canarias found that more than a third of the islands’ GDP and more than 40% of all jobs in the region depend on tourism. Covid-19 has seen the islands’ economy grind to a halt.
A family was set to be reunited after nearly four years apart. Then coronavirus struck.
And recent data from Oxfam Intermón shows that poverty levels on the islands have grown due to the pandemic.

“It’s really difficult to fight against fear,” Martinez Soliño added. “Fear can be all encompassing. And it’s even more difficult in a population that has barely recovered from the crisis in 2008 and is starting to sense that another one is coming.”

Children between the ages of 6 and 12 — like Abou — are eligible for the local government’s fostering scheme. Those younger than 6 are eligible for adoption, but only when it is confirmed that they do not have any family members in the European Union (EU), or any documentation.

SUMAS tries to reunite migrant children with their biological families where possible — it has helped to put Abou in contact with his mother and father, who both live in Paris.

His parents made the journey to Europe via the Mediterranean, travelling from Libya to Italy and from there to France a year before Abou. They raised the money to pay for Abou’s boat journey from Morocco to the Canary Islands, in hopes of a brighter future.

“After the first two weeks of being here, he was able to speak to his parents by phone,” his foster carer Feliciano explained. “He is now able to maintain a relationship with them. He may be able to return to his family, but it does depend on his decision and the situation which they find themselves in.”

“The reality is that it is a painful process, because you get attached emotionally,” Feliciano said. “But this situation isn’t adoption, it is temporary. It’s help from a family that wants to give a child love, care and affection so they can begin living a normal life.”

But many children are too old to take part in the scheme — most minors who arrive are boys aged around 15 or 16.

"Omar," 15, who is originally from Senegal, arrived in Tenerife in November, aboard a fishing boat.

One such boy is 15-year-old Omar (not his real name) from Senegal, who landed on the island of Tenerife last November. He and a group of migrants spent more than a week traveling aboard a fishing boat with little food or water.

“I felt awful on the journey,” he told CNN. “It was eight days by sea without sleeping or eating well. But now I am happy here. I have been in Spain for three months now and I don’t want to leave. I see myself building a life here, finding a job and having a family.”

Omar lives in a center for child migrants, run by the Canary Islands government. Its young residents are taught Spanish and other professional skills to help them integrate into society.

But the sharp increase in demand for places has squeezed the resources of the local government, forcing it to seek help from the private sector to open new centers.

“At the end of last year … we did not have enough places to house the children and provide them with the care they needed,” said Martinez Soliño. She said three new centers were opened in hotels that had been left empty because of the pandemic.

“But now we are receiving opposition from members of the public, and it is growing,” she said.

Children left in limbo

Adding to the challenges they face; some migrant children remain in limbo even after arriving safely on the islands.

Authorities in the Canary Islands use bone marrow tests to verify the ages of children whose dates of birth are unclear. But backlogs due to the pandemic mean around 500 young people are still waiting to have their ages confirmed, said Martinez, from the Canary Islands’ government.

Without proof of age, they cannot be placed with families — even if they are under 12 — or be given documents which allow those over 16 access to free training courses.

Desperate migrants keep coming. Now vigilantes are threatening the welcomers

The Canary Islands government said it had received €10 million ($12m) from the Spanish government to help house and care for child migrants, but that the funding fell far short of its program’s needs.

Oussama El Baroudi, from the International Organization for Migration, said the situation on the islands was one of many examples which highlight the need for a long-term multilateral solution for the migrant crisis: “It will be important for both Spain and the EU to adopt a way of managing migrations that will guarantee that they can take place in an ordered and safe manner.”

In the meantime, Abou’s life has become a little more like a child’s should. He has recently started school and has joined a football team. Little by little, he is settling into a routine on the island.

Afonso Feliciano hopes that, with time, Abou, and other migrants like him, will be greeted with more understanding.

“People don’t think that, for instance, leaving here and moving to the States is immigration, or going to London to live is immigration, when the reality is that they are the same thing. It’s leaving everything behind to go to another place with the hope that your life will improve,” he said.

“If we could just put ourselves in the skin of someone else just a little, I am sure the world would be much better.”

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Meet Afghanistan’s only female tour guide

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Meet Afghanistan's only female tour guide
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(CNN) — For many people who work as tour guides, showing people around a new city involves a little bit of getting off the beaten track. But when there is no track at all, you just have to blaze one yourself.

That has been the story of Fatima, the only woman working as a tour guide in Afghanistan. The 22-year-old (who asked that CNN not use her surname for safety reasons) grew up leading sheep through the countryside, and now she leads tourists through the streets of Herat, the third-largest city in Afghanistan.

The making of a trailblazer

The youngest of eight children, Fatima is the only one of her siblings to be unmarried and to have gotten an education.

She grew up in rural Gohr Province, where she says there was no schooling available to girls, but she convinced her family to let her take lessons if she brought in enough of an income from sheep herding.

When Fatima was nine, her family settled in Herat. Though she was able to get some informal education, she mostly stayed at home helping her mother. Getting an education wasn’t as simple as just enrolling in the local comprehensive.

When Fatima couldn’t afford notebooks, she says she wrote with a stick in the sand. She practiced her English by listening to BBC radio, which she could pick up when high enough in the hills.

Unlike some kids, Fatima didn’t grow up dreaming of working in tourism — not only was it not traditional for women to work, she says she didn’t even know that giving tours was a job.

“I thought a lot during these years, how sitting at home would not solve any problem,” she says. “My brothers and sisters were forced to get married. It was so sad for me. I decided that I would not continue in their tradition. That was how I decided to work.”

First step: work on her English. Fatima signed up for Facebook and began joining groups for people interested in history. Tired of people who only knew Afghanistan as a place of war and conflict, she says she started writing regular posts about places in her country that foreigners might not know about.

Herat is in northwestern Afghanistan, not far from the borders with Iran and Turkmenistan and has been inhabited since the fifth century BCE, making it an interesting place for a history buff to grow up.

After she began writing her posts, everything changed.

Fatima says started getting comments and responses from her new online friends. In 2020, one of them — a man known as “Big Tom” — reached out to her saying he was going to be traveling in Afghanistan and would she be interested in showing him around in Herat?

She said yes. They went to the Herat Citadel, to the National Museum and to a traditional tea house.

Tom recommended her to someone else, and Fatima continued to get work by word of mouth. Eventually she came to the attention of Untamed Borders, a boutique travel agency that specializes in trips to more inaccessible areas.

After meeting Fatima and traveling through the city with her, Tom recommended that the company hire her. And they did hire her in late 2020, which is how the young self-taught woman became her country’s first female professional tour guide.

“Having a female guide gives our guests a whole new perspective,” says James Willcox, Untamed Borders’ founder. “As well as being well informed as a guide, Fatima gives our guests a personal insight into her life as an Afghan woman. We try to give our guests a framework of information to give context to the experiences they have in Afghanistan, and Fatima adds to that in a big way.”

"In the future I want to write about girls like my sisters," says Fatima.

“In the future I want to write about girls like my sisters,” says Fatima.

Courtesy Untamed Borders

Fatima’s new career caused some friction in her traditional family at a time when her siblings were already challenging their father’s more conservative views.

She asserted her independence, telling her father: “Right now, my brothers and sisters [say] that if we are not satisfied in life it is because of you. If I have a bad life now, it’s because of me.”

Though he has come around to Fatima’s work, she says her mother has always given her blessing. “My mother is happy. She is supporting me. Right now, she is my everything.”

The rocky road smoothens out

Of course, being a pioneer is never easy.

Fatima says many people in her life, including some of her own family members, have told her that it’s too dangerous for a woman to work, especially if it means interacting with men one-on-one.

She says children have thrown stones at her while she’s guiding tourists through the local market. People have shouted profanities at her.

Sadly, these are not isolated experiences. According to data from the United Nations, only about 19% of women in Afghanistan are employed outside of the home.

Fatima has used money from her work to enroll in university.

Fatima has used money from her work to enroll in university.

Courtesy Untamed Borders

The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, more commonly known as UN Women, elucidates: “About 64%t of Afghans agree that women should be allowed to work outside the home, however, they still face a multitude of barriers, including restrictions, harassment, discrimination and violence, as well as practical hurdles such as a lack of job experience, employment skills and education.”

Fatima says that the support of her employers and the people she has met through giving tours are what keep her motivated. There’s also the implication of what could happen if she does quit: “Challenges are always a part of my life. If I give up, then other women will never start.”

To keep herself safe, she dresses modestly while on the job and never goes out with a group late at night.

Afghanistan’s tourism industry peaked in the relatively safe 1970s, with an average of 90,000 foreign tourists coming per year. Data is spotty and inconsistent, but in 2013 the country’s deputy minister of tourism told the New York Times that the number was closer to 15-20,000 per year.

Many countries, including the United States, have travel advisories in place and encourage their citizens not to visit Afghanistan.

However, choosing which countries to visit and how can make a significant difference on the ground. Tourism is an industry where not everyone is required to have a college degree, which can make the bar of entry lower and easier.

Fatima’s tour guide income helps to support her family, and it also means she can afford to go to college. After passing the entrance exams, Fatima says she’s been able to enroll at Herat University and is now studying journalism. On the side, she says she teaches English to 41 girls in a refugee school.

The education, she says, isn’t just for her. Fatima tutors her nieces and nephews in English and helps pay for some of their school fees and supplies. This is generational change in action — the sons and daughters of siblings who could not get an education are now going to government schools.

If travel, in its purest form, is about expanding our view of the world around us, this is certainly true for Fatima, even when she is the one showing people her homeland instead of visiting theirs.

She says she dreams of changing roles for a while and letting someone else guide her — her top choice for a travel destination, fitting for a lover of history and culture, is Tibet.

Most of Fatima’s dreams, though, are closer to home. She says she hopes to open a school to train tour guides. It would be open to both boys and girls, she says, but “ladies first,” as there are fewer job opportunities available to women.

“I am the first lady in Afghanistan to guide people,” she says, “but I do not want to be the last.”

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Canada Post is sending every household a postcard to send to a loved one for free

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Canada Post is sending every household a postcard to send to a loved one for free
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The government postal agency is planning to send about 13.5 million postcards across the county, according to a news release. They are part of the “Write Here Wrote Now” campaign established by the Canada Post in September to encourage letter writing as a means of connection.

“Meaningful connection is vital for our emotional health, sense of community and overall well-being,” Doug Ettinger, president and CEO of Canada Post, said in a statement.

“Canada Post wants everyone to stay safe, but also stay in touch with the people who matter to them.”

There will be six different versions of the postcard, which will be randomly sent to each household. The messages on the cards will be ones of appreciation, love and thanks, according to the release. The cards can be sent anywhere for free in the country.

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Premium economy: Why this will be the hottest airplane seat in 2021

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Premium economy: Why this will be the hottest airplane seat in 2021
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(CNN) — Premium economy. The two words might seem a weird combination in airline terms, since it’s a rare airline where economy seats feel premium these days. But these seats between coach and business class on international flights were heating up even before Covid-19, and as we all start to travel again in 2021, they’re set to be a must-fly for many passengers.

Why? It’s a combination of factors.

First, the economic crisis means that business class travelers will be “trading down” to premium economy — whether that’s people flying for work whose travel policies are being tightened or upmarket leisure travelers who are feeling the pinch on their wallets but don’t fancy feeling it at their knees or elbows.

Second, frequent fliers will have miles to burn after a year of reduced traveling, and with those straitened travel policies that land business travelers in economy, we’ll likely see some of them upgrading themselves to the slightly better seats with their points. That’s alongside pent-up leisure travelers looking for a bit of a splurge, even in hard times.

Third comes the fact that, after more than a year of Covid-19, we’re just not psychologically used to being cheek-by-jowl with other people anymore. It’s going to feel very strange to think about doing that on a plane, so the extra space in premium economy will be welcome.

Emirates recently debuted its latest A380 with luxurious premium economy seats.

Emirates recently debuted its latest A380 with luxurious premium economy seats.

Courtesy Emirates

What is it?

But what is premium economy? Fundamentally, it’s a bigger seat, says Ben Orson, a designer responsible for many of the most successful seats of the past decade, and now managing director of Orson Associates.

“The most important part of what a premium economy seat offers the passenger is a significant upgrade in terms of comfort when compared to economy. Premium economy seating typically provides around 5 to 10 inches of additional leg room, a more generous recline with a leg rest and an enhanced entertainment experience with a much larger screen.”

Seats are also around two to three inches wider, and there are usually one to two seats fewer in each row: eight in a Boeing 777 or Airbus A380, for example, compared with 10 seats in most economy classes.

“This approach has paid off for airlines,” Orson says, “with both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic saying that, per square foot, premium economy is the most profitable part of the plane.”

Premium economy often comes with upgraded meal service.

Premium economy often comes with upgraded meal service.

Courtesy British Airways

Premium economy is found, metaphorically and on the actual aircraft, between the increasingly spacious and luxurious business classes and the increasingly less spacious and less luxurious economy classes.

Airbus calls this widening gap the “comfort canyon.”

Matt Round, chief creative officer at design studio Tangerine, explains that for airlines, it helps to fill this gap and that along with that larger seat comes some additional perks.

“Airlines tend to offer premium economy passengers access to more priority services such as free seat reservations, priority boarding and increased luggage allowance. The services that are offered vary according to the airline.”

Who flies it?

Passengers usually first approach premium economy from one of two directions: either upgrading from economy or downgrading from business.

“Pre-Covid-19, premium economy performed well for leisure passengers who wanted a slight treat or for cost-conscious large and small businesses,” Round explains. “On some routes, there was a tendency for passengers traveling on business to fly premium economy during the day and return on a fully flat bed in business class on the night flights.”

EVA Air's premium economy cabins were among the world's first.

EVA Air’s premium economy cabins were among the world’s first.

EVA Air

But, where business class seats have become more spacious and economy class seats have shrunk both in legroom and elbow room, how have premium economy seats changed since their introduction nearly 30 years ago aboard Virgin Atlantic and EVA Air?

“They haven’t, not really,” says Peter Tennent, director of design house Factorydesign.

“When we designed the first British Airways’ World Traveller Plus seat in 2000, the basis for the seat customization was an aging business class platform. These conventional, yet larger recliner seats were beginning to be superseded by enhanced business class offers, so there was a fairly obvious option to downgrade them from business to a reduced offer to sit between business and economy.”

Despite many advances in inflight entertainment and connectivity features such as on-demand inflight touchscreen entertainment, power sockets, WiFi internet and more, the basic seat hasn’t changed much, Tennent says.

“There have been many new premium economy seats, some bespoke, others derivatives of existing platforms, but all still following the same principle.”

What about the future?

Premium economy, says Martin Darbyshire, chief executive officer of Tangerine, is “a life saver for me as a business traveler who runs a privately owned company, and therefore cannot justify flying business class whenever I want.

“For a day flight, especially, premium economy is a comfortable way of flying with a reasonable quality of service. The smaller cabin is also a benefit, as it creates a more private space.”

Premium economy is also very popular with senior citizens on vacation, particularly because they can usually book early for lower fares.

More legroom is a key benefit of premium economy seats.

More legroom is a key benefit of premium economy seats.

Chris Rank/Delta Air Lines

Business travelers, on the other hand, can find it expensive at the last minute, Darbyshire notes. That said, these passengers — especially if they’re also frequent fliers — are among the first to be upgraded into business class if the premium economy cabin is getting full.

Overall, says Orson, “premium economy will continue to be attractive to the very tall, the elderly, and anybody else for whom economy class presents too much of a physical challenge.”

But, looking forward, he muses, “could it be that the approach which launched premium economy in the first instance — a considered selection of those aspects of business class that really matter to passengers today, such as a more technologically informed approach to comfort, greater privacy, enhanced connectivity or a more distanced boarding experience — might be applied again to create a new way of traveling, perfectly tailored to the ever-evolving needs of our passengers of the future?”

Whatever the future looks like, Tennent from Factorydesign notes, “Aviation is a battleground for differentiation. If one airline can offer — or claim to — something better, different or novel compared to their competitors, it provides a commercial advantage.”

Top photo from Philippine Airlines. John Walton is an international transportation and aviation journalist based in France, specializing in airlines, commercial aircraft and the passenger experience.

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