Spain's far right threatens to exit regional coalitions over young migrant plan

MADRID (Reuters) -Spanish far-right party Vox has threatened to bring down coalition governments with the centre-right People's Party in several regions in protest over an agreement to transfer around 400 young migrants from the Canary Islands to mainland Spain.

The People's Party, which runs five regions including Valencia in coalition with Vox, said on Wednesday it would back a plan by Spain's central Socialist-run government to move the under-18s.

The government said it had focussed on 400 of the 6,000 unaccompanied young migrants from West Africa who are currently on the archipelago to ease pressure on infrastructure. It has urged Spanish regions to take in arrivals.

"Today (the People's Party) has blown up (regional) government deals, welcoming voluntarily 400 underage migrants," Vox leader Santiago Abascal wrote on X late on Wednesday. "Do not count on us to scam, loot and endanger Spaniards."

Vox's leadership was due to meet later on Thursday to decide whether to follow through on its threat. Without Vox, the People's Party could run minority governments but would struggle to pass bills and get budgets approved.

The People's Party runs the Canaries with another party. It put out a statement asking why Vox would considering undermining regional bodies that governed 11 million Spaniards in the Balearic Islands and the other regions because of a small number of migrant children.

"Vox cannot say it is patriotic and leave children who are not to blame for anything stranded," Cuca Gamarra, the Secretary General of the People's Party, said.

Socialist spokesperson Patxi Lopez said it was hard to accept that there were members of regional governments "who say that these children come with machetes and are criminals".

An increasing number of migrants arriving the Canary Islands from West Africa has put a strain on the archipelago's infrastructure, Regional Policy Minister Angel Victor Torres said on Thursday.

More than 16,500 migrants arrived in the first five months of 2024, five times more than the same period a year earlier, according to government figures.

Vox was founded in 2013 and has become the third largest at the national level in Spain. But, while far-right parties saw a strong performance in this year's European Parliament elections, Vox saw its share of the vote in Spain fall compared with the national election in July 2023.

Under-18s who migrate alone to Spain are entitled to government protection and aid under Spanish law.

In 2022, Spain offered more funding to regions that volunteered to host unaccompanied young migrants. But, to date, few conservative-run regions have accepted more than a handful.

The central government says it is now considering making transfers compulsory once the numbers in reception centres in the Canaries reach a certain level.

(Reporting by Inti Landauro, additional reporting by Belén Carreño; editing by Aislinn Laing, Mark Heinrich and Andrew Heavens)