Author: Stephen Burgen
Barcelona city council has said more state aid will be needed to help settle refugees and migrants as the Catalan capital prepares to take in 100 people from the rescue ship Aquarius.
Ignasi Calbó, the co-ordinator of the Barcelona City of Refugees programme, said that Pedro Sánchez’s new Socialist government needed to back up its humanitarian gesture with money and policies.
“If it’s committed on the issue of refugees, the Sánchez government has no option but to provide resources,” he said. “There could be 300 more Aquarius this year so there needs to be a consistent policy.”
The mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, also called earlier this week for the central government to fulfil its obligations. “Cities can’t do it all themselves. We need policies and resources that allow us to plan for this,” she said.
Since the Barcelona City of Refugees plan was launched in 2015, the city council has spent €6m (£5.2m) attending to 11,600 refugees and illegal immigrants. Colau has asked the new Madrid government to re-establish the €200m refugee reception fund that was abolished in 2011.
“The government’s gesture has to be accompanied by resources,” Calbó said. “We’ve had 10 years of the People’s party who have done nothing to deal with refugees and immigration and have done nothing for the cities that are in the frontline when it comes to migration.”
It will fall to the city’s Service Centre For Immigrants, Emigrants And Refugees) to accommodate and arrange schooling for the new arrivals. The state has an obligation to provide housing via NGOs for the first 12 months, which can be extended to two years in the most vulnerable cases.
If the refugees have learnt the language and found work by the end of that time, they become legal residents like any other immigrant. If they do not, and jobs are scarce, they have to rely on organisations such as Caritas, the Catholic church’s charitable wing.
“It’s going to be difficult to find places for these people,” a spokeswoman for Caritas’s immigration programme said. “We have emergency housing for 85 people but all the places are occupied.” Another 80 places offered by the city authorities are also full.
How many of the 100-plus unaccompanied minors on board the Aquarius will arrive in Barcelona remains to be seen, but the city already hosts about 2,000, mainly from Morocco.
There is a chronic shortage of resources to help these young people, many of whom end up living precariously on the street, often resorting to crime in order to survive. Much of the burden again falls on the voluntary sector, but Caritas has facilities to house just 10 minors.
The new Spanish government has been praised for taking in the 630 people aboard the Aquarius, but the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has said the country face “another very challenging year” as people cross the Mediterranean in search of refuge and a better life.
Figures from the International Organisation for Migration show that 8,309 migrants and refugees have reached Spain by sea so far this year, and 240 have died en route.
Last year, 21,468 refugees and migrants arrived by crossing the Mediterranean, and 224 people died on the journey. The 2017 figures were a threefold increase on the previous year.
María Jesús Vega, a spokeswoman for UNHCR Spain, said the agency applauded the government’s decision to help the migrants and refugees on board the Aquarius.
She also said the strong and positive response from regional governments, city councils and civil society groups could pave the way for a necessary review of how Spain deals with migrants and asylum seekers.
“This could be an excellent opportunity to reconsider the national strategy on managing arrivals,” she said. “We’re seeing coordination mechanisms that allow regional and autonomous governments to participate in the process of taking in people. That’s the direction we need to go in when it comes to dealing with the challenges of the current situation, of which there are many.”
UNHCR has previously called for closer coordination between government departments, police, maritime rescue services and NGOs, and improvements to the infrastructure for registering, identifying and protecting new arrivals.
José Javier Sánchez Espinosa, the deputy director for migration at the Spanish Red Cross, said the challenges embodied by the plight of the Aquarius required an international response.
“It’s not just a problem with Europe’s southern border or Spain’s, or with the Aquarius,” he said. “It’s a phenomenon that calls for a European solution at the very least. It’s about long-term global inequalities when it comes to economics and security.”