Is Spain suitable for migration

Spain's handling of migrants Refugee policy between humanity and hardship

"The first contact with these people by the police must take place under humane conditions. Multi-purpose sports halls are not suitable for sleeping or eating."

Pepe Villahoz is the spokesman for Algeciras Acoge, an aid organization that cares for refugees and asylum seekers.

"Algeciras Acoge" - the name says it all, stands for a welcoming culture, because it means: "Algeciras receives". In the past few days and weeks, authorities and helpers in the port city on the Strait of Gibraltar seem overwhelmed, they are reaching their limits.

The rescuers of the Spanish sea rescue organization Salvamento Maritimo and the Guardia Civil have rescued up to 1,400 migrants on some of the last weekends from wobbly, totally overloaded rubber dinghies and brought them to the ports of Cadiz, Barbate, Tarifa and above all Algeciras.

"We save and protect people when we get them off the dinghies. After that, the national police are responsible for establishing personal details and the formalities for accommodation in reception centers. If it is Moroccans, for example, they can also be deported." , Rafael Pallaruiz from the Marine Patrol of the Guardia Civil explains the formal procedure.

Spain as the main gateway for refugees from Africa

Spain has concluded agreements with Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria which, in principle, allow illegal immigrants to be repatriated quickly. Most of the newcomers therefore come from sub-Saharan Africa, from countries such as Ivory Coast, Guinea, Mali or Senegal. Gibreel, a stocky young man from Senegal, has tried to cross over fifteen times - now he has made it.

"There were a lot of waves on the crossing. And a lot of people died."

Gibreel still has fear written on his face. Almost three hundred people have drowned on the way to Spain so far this year, according to information from the International Migration Agency. Overall, the authority estimates the number of victims on the so-called Mediterranean route to the EU at at least 1,500 this year.

At the gateway to Europe: Rafael Pallaruiz from the Marine Patrol of the Guardia Civil (Burkhard Birke)

It threatens to become even more. Spain has become the main gateway for illegal immigration via the Mediterranean: According to the UNHCR, 28,000 migrants had come to the EU via Spain by the end of July, 24,000 of them by sea, the others via the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. There are more every day, depending on the weather conditions.

"We keep a very close eye on the weather conditions in the Strait of Gibraltar and in the Alborán Sea. Normally the waves are between one meter and one meter fifty feet high. When they are only fifty centimeters high, we know that an avalanche of immigrants is coming because translate them in very shaky outboards or in rubber dinghies, "explains Commander Moises from the control center of the Guardia Civil in Madrid, where all borders are monitored centrally by video, radar, thermal cameras and aircraft and deployment orders are given.

Such weather conditions are by no means uncommon in midsummer, but surely only one explanation for the fact that more and more black Africans like Gibril from Senegal are trying to get to the EU via the 14 km wide Strait of Gibraltar.

Spain's welcome course under Sánchez

The strict refusal of the Italian government to allow refugees from rescue ships onto Italian soil is another factor. The willingness of the new Spanish government under Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to take in refugees, an additional one to explain the shift of the route to the western Mediterranean. The EU-Turkey agreement and the lax attitude of the Mauritanians and especially Moroccans are likely to play a role. Spain has signed cooperation agreements to control migration with these countries as well as with Algeria. It is rumored, however, that Morocco has deliberately acted negligently in the recent past to put pressure on the EU.

The strategy obviously worked: Brussels has just released 30 million euros for better surveillance of the EU's external border by Moroccan security forces. But obviously this is not enough for the Moroccans, who patrol the Strait of Gibraltar in mixed teams with the Guardia Civil. Only last weekend several hundred refugees arrived on the Andalusian coast.

"We urgently need to create, at least temporarily, the infrastructure to accommodate refugees. A few months ago people were housed in a prison. Is a tent more acceptable than a prison? Yes! These people didn't do anything to be put in a prison! That is an emergency situation and you have to act accordingly ", demands Maria Segurado from Caritas Spain.

Placement in prisons or on rescue ships, which are then missing again for use? The Senegalese Gibril and several dozen other refugees had to stay for several days in a confined space on the María Zambrano, a rescue ship in the port of Algeciras. There was no place in the reception centers. A couple of Dixi toilets were installed at the harbor, and there was water and food.

Port of Tarifa: "The new Lampedusa" (Burkhard Birke)

"We brought refugees to the multi-purpose sports hall by four in the morning, but a few stayed behind. The problem is that more and more migrants are coming. We lack specialists, police officers, responsible politicians and there is a lack of media interest," explains José Ignacio Landaluce the situation. Landaluce is mayor of the port city of Algeciras and senator of the Partido Popular, the conservative people's party.

He can no longer complain about a lack of media interest. Since the first critical days there has hardly been a medium that did not quote him with the saying that he also uttered in the Deutschlandfunk interview:

"Algeciras will be the new Lampedusa. But we have learned lessons from the others and are more efficient."

Aid organizations criticize the Spanish authorities

Really? It took days until almost a week ago an initial reception center was finally set up in Algeciras for 350 people. Also elsewhere along the Andalusian coast attempts are being made to set up such centers so that sports halls and other public halls do not have to be used as emergency accommodation again. The State Secretary for Migration in the Ministry of Labor and Migration Estrella Rodriguez:

"We are quickly opening new capacities like in Chiclana for 500 people, possibly more. That is for the accommodation after the first 72 hours that the police have by law for the registration of persons. From there we can refer the people to the accommodation of the aid organizations . "

Estrella Rodriguez is part of the crisis team that is supposed to solve the problem. Because apart from the poor preparation, the confusion of competencies is a problem in Spain: The Guardia Civil is responsible for border protection and, together with Salvamento Maritimo, for sea rescue, the national police and thus the Ministry of the Interior are responsible for registration, the municipalities and the Ministry of Labor and Migration responsible for accommodating and caring for the people - a task that is largely delegated to a dozen aid organizations co-financed by the state. They too are of the opinion that one could and should have reacted earlier.

"A similar number of people came to Spain in previous years. So that's nothing new," says Pepe Villahoz from the Algeciras Acoge aid organization. The UN refugee agency also announced the change of route at an early stage and called for measures. Spokeswoman Maria Jesus Vega:

"In the first few months of this year the number of boats arriving on the south coast of Spain increased. I believe this trend will continue. UNHCR has been sounding the alarm for several years."

Debate about course in refugee policy flared up

The more persistently Italy refuses to accept refugees from lifeboats, and the more humane the new Spanish government under the socialist Pedro Sánchez is, the more attractive the refugee route across the western Mediterranean becomes.

A political debate about migration has long since broken out in Spain. Since a good ten years ago thousands of refugees landed on small boats on the Canary Islands, the country has not seen such an onslaught of migrants across the sea. The State Secretary for Migration, Estrella Rodriguez:

"Yes - I believe that politics is made with immigration. This means that one does not look calmly for suitable solutions for an admittedly complex phenomenon because we are always thinking of something else."

For example, how to make political capital out of the situation. Estrella Rodriguez has only been State Secretary for Migration for a few weeks. The socialist is believed to be making serious efforts to receive the refugees stranded on the Andalusian coast in a humane and humane manner. The development was foreseeable, says Rodriguez. A swipe at the former conservative government of Mariano Rajoy.

"One could have taken precautions. The change of route was not necessarily predictable, but the number of immigrants doubled last year."

Refugee helpers in Tarifa: With rubber dinghies across the Mediterranean (Deutschlandradio / Burkhard Birke)

Chronicle of an announced wave of migration? The opposition rejects the allegation. At the same time, she accuses Pedro Sánchez of sending the wrong signal with the shot of the refugees from the rescue ship Aquarius, which was staged with a lot of media hype. The ship with over 600 refugees on board had been turned away by Italy and Malta. In mid-June, the migrants disembarked in the Spanish city of Valencia. The head of government:

"The action of Aquarius, the government's decision to offer refugees a safe pick-up point, has received a lot of social support from Spanish society. This shows the solidarity of the Spanish people and increases awareness that we are facing a challenge, the borders and requires a common solution by the EU. "

Sánchez recently announced a migration meeting of the - quote - "willing" in the European Union during the visit of French President Macron. That will also be the topic at the weekend when he meets German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Andalusia. Spain has just signed a return agreement with Germany. It is about people who are apprehended at the German border, but Spain is responsible for their application for asylum. Only a fraction of the refugees in Germany have so far entered via Spain.

Meeting of the "willing": Chancellor Merkel, Spain's Prime Minister Sanchez. (dpa / Michael Kappeler)

Could that change soon !? If you believe some of the opposition politicians in Spain, the country is in danger of being overwhelmed by a wave of black African migration. The newly elected head of the Partido Popular, the People's Party, Pablo Casado:

"Immigration is not an issue for demagoguery. The left does not have the monopoly of good feelings, it tears our hearts apart when we see the pictures, but we have to act responsibly and not populist. What the Spaniards want to hear from a party, is that we cannot give everyone papers, that Spain cannot accept millions of Africans who come to Europe in search of a better future, and if it is not possible then we have to say so, even if it is politically incorrect is. "

Experts are quoted in the press as saying: In Libya, 680,000, in Morocco and Mauritania 80,000 people from the sub-Saharan zone were just waiting for a chance to come to Europe.

Will they all now try to immigrate to the EU via Morocco and Spain? This is the question raised by politicians and the media on the Iberian Peninsula.

The harrowing images from the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in Morocco are still fresh. Over 600 migrants entered the EU by force at the end of July. Many were injured, including two dozen civil guard officers.

Such images of Fortress Europe being stormed are frightening and, even in Spain, grist to the mill of those who demand a hard rather than humane approach when dealing with refugees. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has been criticized for considering having the knife blades removed from the top of the fences in Ceuta.

It is by no means the first time that Spain has experienced a massive influx of migrants from Africa: in 2006 almost 32,000 Africans were stranded in the Canary Islands. The crisis in the Cayucos - so named after the small, partly self-made boats with which the refugees came to the islands - was stopped by international agreements and an Africa plan.

The Spanish opposition is now calling for a new action plan to improve the situation in sub-Saharan Africa, while the new government in Madrid is currently trying to establish a basis of contact and trust, especially with Mauritania and Morocco, in order to first of all better enforce the existing agreements.

Struggle for a European solution

However, we are working at full speed on a European solution and on more efficiency in the confusion of competencies in the rescue, reception and care of the arriving migrants. Employees from three different ministries and countless aid organizations, some of which are financed by the state, are currently responsible for their support.

"A single command unit of the security forces will be created in the Strait of Gibraltar. Operational, not political decisions will be made there. This will continue to be done by the responsible authorities. This unit will bundle all activities, personnel and material related to illegal immigration Collect relevant information and pass it on quickly. This is intended to optimize the use of resources, strengthen cooperation in the countries of origin and prevent the departure of migrants and unexpected entry into Spain, "announced Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez at his summer press conference.

The EU is supporting Spain with 55 million euros. Consideration is being given to expanding the cooperation with Frontex in border control and security as part of the Minerva and Indalo operations. Aid measures and additional facilities are also planned on site. The mayor of Algeciras José Ignacio Landaluce is offering 20,000 square meters of land for a new, modern internment center, i.e. a deportation center. The old and a reception center for minors are to be closed because of the intolerable conditions there.

Is that already the approach of a European solution that is being worked on at full speed? The fact is: In Spain, the number of asylum seekers increased enormously last year. As explained by Jose Carlos Cabrera of CEAR, the Spanish Commission on Assistance to Asylum Seekers:

"Since the asylum legislation was changed in 1985, there have never been so many asylum seekers. The problem is that the Interior Ministry does not give these people the guarantees to clarify their status within the given time frame."

Caritas: "Tax money for smugglers and mafias"

31,120 people applied for asylum in Spain in 2017 - a third of them came from Venezuela - very few came from Africa. The number of refugees and asylum seekers in Spain will probably continue to rise, but not to the extent that Germany had to cope with in 2015.

This year a total of around 60,000 migrants had traveled across the Mediterranean to the EU by the end of July: That is only about half the number from the previous year - and yet millions and millions of euros are being invested in border security, in reception and deportation camps? Shouldn't this money be better invested in the development of Africa? This is a question that not only Maria Segurado from Caritas Spain is asking:

"There is an abundance of legal immigration opportunities that we do not take advantage of. Instead, we spend all the money to prevent people from coming to us. I think it is we who provide the smugglers with the money. Our tax money flows to these mafias. "