(from Valencia) What will it be of 630 migrants on board of the Aquarius ship who arrived in Valencia last week? Is their fate bound to be different from the uncertain, precarious destiny of many others who were fortunate enough not to die at sea but who fail to find open arms or safe integration into Europe? Valencia’s civil society is faced with a plethora of questions after the Spanish government gave its availability to the migrants’ reception – albeit limited to a 45-day humanitarian permit. The archdiocese of Valencia will be receiving 42 migrants next week-end. Families, men and women will be hosted in Caritas structures while 20 youths in the Ciudad de la Esperanca (City of Hope) centre located in the Spanish town of Aldaia, which already hosts 110 refugees from 36 Countries. Yesterday, marking the World Day of Refugees, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares, archbishop of Valencia, exhorted “not to forget the tragedy of thousands of people who will soon be arriving on barges or with other means on the Spanish shores, mostly in Andalusia and on Italian shores.” The Cardinal called upon all governments to adopt “fairer, impartial and generous legislation.”
Twofold arrivals increase in Spain. The death toll is registered on a daily basis: 76 missing persons (including 15 women and a baby) have drowned during the shipwreck of June 12, according to the testimony of 41 people rescued by the US military ship Trenton in the Mediterranean Sea. Figures show that after the EU-Turkey and Italy-Libya deals closed the Balkan and Libyan routes, human traffickers seek new routes or go back to the old ones. The situation is evident in Spain: according to the latest data released by the Spanish Jesuit Migrants Service (SJM), 28,572 migrants entered Spain via irregular routes, by land or sea. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in the first six months of 2018, more than 14,000 migrants arrived in Spain, 50% more than those arrived in the same period of 2017. Only in the last weekend the Spanish coastguards rescued 1,290 people at frontera Sur, in the Strait of Gibraltar, and off the Canary islands. Most of them are Algerians and Moroccans. Four corpses were recovered in the operations and 43 people were reported as missing.
The number of migrants arriving via the Spanish route is bound to increase. Spain is also a gateway to Latin America:
Out of over 46 million inhabitants 1 million are regular migrants who have acquired Spanish nationality. Estimates show that on average
Every day 3.000 people enter with a tourist visa but they risk becoming irregular migrants.
80% arrived from Venezuela, owing to the ongoing political and humanitarian crisis, as well as from Colombia and Brazil.
“Serious, organized integration is the real challenge.” “Owing to tightened controls in Greece and Italy, the route has been diverted to Spain. Migrants arrive along the coast of Valencia, Alicantina, and Mursia. Almost all of them will proceed towards other European Countries. Many of them pass through Valencia”, Msgr. Olbier Hernandez Carbonell, Episcopal delegate for Migrations at the diocese of Valencia, told SIR. In the arquebisbado of Valencia, as written on signposts in the ancient jargon of Valencia, characterising the identity of this area, the Cuban-born Monsignor, naturalized Spanish citizen, is in the frontline of support to migrants. He is fully knowledgeable of the complexities and nuances of this issue.
“The Aquarius incident is symptomatic of the situation in the international arena. Migration is a complex phenomenon which we are unable to handle at European level.”
“We should understand why Italy is denying access to the ship”, he remarked. “Could it be because massive migrant inflows on Italian shores are not supported by appropriate integration programs in Italy Spain or in other EU countries? Indeed, there are small gestures of solidarity and support but
interventions are carried out according to dated laws and reception programs.”
His analysis is accurate and against the tide: “Italy’s refusal to allow Aquarius rescue ship to dock is a negative sign, but Spain’s decision to grant a temporary permit is no good news. We are not informed on their management: which programs will they be integrated into? The matter at stake is not their full reception but for which purpose.
What will happen to these people in six months or in a year? Where will they be living? On the streets or within organized integration programs? Migration is a global challenge.”
In his opinion the problem is that “there are no appropriate integration programs in Spain”, those that have been implemented are limited and insufficient. Everything is being taken care of by NGOs, Caritas and organized civil society structures, which are “overloaded.”
Caritas Valencia and the migrations delegation, with the highest number of volunteers in Spain – over 6000 -, promoted, with the support of the Jesuits, the joint project for migrants reception “En casa hay sitio para un hermano mas” (In our home there is always room for another brother). They currently house over 100 refugees in independent apartments, coupled by psychological and legal counsel, food, clothing. Last year they provided assistance to approximately 25.000 migrants, 48% of all Caritas “users”.
Spanish Identification and Expulsion Centres for repatriations, the “failure of politics.” Another controversial issue in Spain involves the “Centros de internamiento de extranjeros” (Identification and Expulsion Centres- CIE) where irregular migrants are detained while awaiting repatriation. In Spain there are only 4 refugee reception centres but as many as 7 CIE centres, especially at the frontera Sur where border controls have been tightened. According to the latest SJM Report of the Spanish Jesuits, who denounced “severe suffering”,
in 2017, 8,814 people were detained in those Centres, including 396 women and 48 minors. Most of them are Algerians (31%), Moroccans (18%) and Ivorians (13.78%).
The remaining 21% arrived from Guinea, Gambia, Cameroon, Mali, Guinea Bissau and Burkina Faso. In total, over the years, 18,794 migrants have been detained, 21,834 expulsion proceedings were filed; 9,326 people were repatriated, often very quickly and without the necessary guarantees to the most vulnerable and to those entitled to file an asylum request, the NGO of the Jesuits states in its Report. The delegate for migrations at the diocese of Valencia makes no concessions:
“They represent the failure of migration policy: there should be more reception than detention centers.
Spanish and European legislation must change by adopting reception and integration programs that guarantee a dignified life to the migrant population, while truly helping them – and not motivated by other interests as has been happening up to now- in their Countries of origin.”
NGOs and Italy. Msgr. Hernandez Carbonell is aware that the Italian Interior Minister has threatened to permanently block access to NGO-operated rescue ships. He pointed out: “There is no difference between an NGO rescue ship and a Navy vessel because if people fall victim of human traffickers it makes no difference who saves them. We’re talking of desperate people. The problem must be tackled at source.” In his opinion “NGO-operated ships are necessary because if they were not present in the Sar area (Search & rescue zone), there would be more dead at sea. NGOs are part of civil society. They don’t represent the State.”
“It’s a positive thing that civil society is involved in this crisis. If not, we would be faced with a dictatorship.”
Moreover, he added “responding to solidarity and humanitarian needs and not to a given policy or master, with people operating on the ground can expose national governments to various risks. But saving people’s lives remains a priority. The reflection must start from here and then ascertain the Country’s resources and reception capacities.”
“Mechanisms and policies must be changed. But saving human lives comes before everything else.”