Op­po­si­tion grows to Spain’s mi­grant de­ten­tion cen­ters

De­bates fu­elled by riots and es­cape at­tempts

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

MADRID:

Op­po­si­tion to Spain’s con­tro­ver­sial mi­grant de­ten­tion cen­ters is growing, with the left-wing may­ors of Madrid and Barcelona lead­ing calls to close the fa­cil­i­ties, which have been likened to pris­ons. The de­bate has been fu­elled by a se­ries of riots and es­cape at­tempts in re­cent months at the seven cen­ters which are used to hold peo­ple caught liv­ing in Spain il­le­gally while of­fi­cials de­cide whether or not they will be de­ported. The lat­est in­ci­dent hap­pened on Tues­day, when about 40 mi­grants tried in vain to flee a mi­grant de­ten­tion cen­tre in Barcelona dur­ing din­ner time.

Af­ter their aborted es­cape at­tempt, some 70 mi­grants ri­oted at the cen­tre before po­lice were able to end their protest with­out vi­o­lence, a lo­cal po­lice spokesman said. Last month 73 mi­grants es­caped from a de­ten­tion cen­tre in the south­east­ern prov­ince of Murcia, in two sep­a­rate in­ci­dents. One of the most se­ri­ous episodes hap­pened at the cen­tre in the south­ern Madrid district of Aluche on Oc­to­ber 18, when dozens of mi­grants climbed onto the roof of the for­mer prison where they spent the night and un­furled a ban­ner read­ing “free­dom”. Af­ter this in­ci­dent some mi­grants at the cen­tre suf­fered vi­o­lence at the hands of po­lice, ac­cord­ing to anti-racism or­ga­ni­za­tion SOS Racismo.

Di­lap­i­dated in­stal­la­tion

Last year, Europe saw an in­flux of more than one mil­lion mi­grants and asy­lum seek­ers flee­ing war and poverty in its worst such cri­sis since World War II, and many coun­tries have strug­gled to cope with the new­com­ers. Rights group Amnesty In­ter­na­tional has ac­cused Ital­ian po­lice of mis­treat­ing mi­grants, while France has come under fire over the clo­sure last week of the no­to­ri­ous “Jun­gle” en­camp­ment hous­ing thou­sands near the north­ern French port of Calais.

The cri­sis has fu­elled anti-mi­grant par­ties across Europe, though not in Spain, where public opin­ion to­wards the new ar­rivals re­mains largely pos­i­tive Spain’s two largest cities Madrid and Barcelona, which have been gov­erned since June 2015 by cit­i­zens’ plat­forms backed by far-left party Pode­mos, both want their mi­grant cen­ters to be closed. “It makes no sense to de­prive of their lib­erty peo­ple who have not com­mit­ted a crime and are wait­ing to be de­ported,” said Madrid mayor Manuela Car­mena, a for­mer judge, on Wed­nes­day af­ter vis­it­ing the Aluche cen­tre. Crit­ics claim that the steep public spend­ing cuts im­posed by Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy’s con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment have wors­ened con­di­tions at the cen­ters.

Dur­ing a visit to the Madrid cen­ter on Wed­nes­day, Pode­mos law­maker Ione Be­larra said it was “in ef­fect a jail” but with greater ob­scu­rity re­gard­ing how it is run, a view shared by many rights groups. Po­lice union SUP says many cen­ters are di­lap­i­dated and have in­suf­fi­cient staff. “Cer­tain cen­ters are very old, with no com­fort and (are) not pre­pared” to re­ceive mi­grants, SUP spokesman Ra­mon Co­sio told AFP. Cen­ters in the south of the coun­try “flood when it rains to the point that the de­tainees must roll up their trousers to the knee,” he said. Po­lice of­fi­cers of­ten pro­vide clothes them­selves to mi­grants who come to the cen­ters with noth­ing af­ter ar­riv­ing in Spain by boat, he added.

‘Cen­ters of pain’

For­eign­ers placed in the cen­ters can only move around freely dur­ing cer­tain hours and must re­main in their rooms at night, ac­cord­ing to SOS Racismo. They can see fam­ily members but only in vis­it­ing rooms, just as in pris­ons. Before glass par­ti­tions sep­a­rated the de­tainees from their vis­i­tors but courts or­dered they should be re­moved. Crit­ics ac­cuse the gov­ern­ment of keep­ing the mi­grants at the cen­ters-dubbed CIEs in Span­ish-in an am­bigu­ous sit­u­a­tion, in over­crowded rooms where po­lice vi­o­lence is rife.

“The CIEs are cen­ters of pain and po­lice im­punity,” the judge in charge of over­see­ing the Madrid’s mi­grant cen­tre, Ramiro Gar­cia de Dios, said in an in­ter­view pub­lished in online daily el­diario.es. But Rafael Merino, a law­maker with the rul­ing Pop­u­lar Party, re­jected the crit­i­cisms, say­ing dur­ing a visit to Madrid’s CIE on Wed­nes­day that there is “ab­so­lute re­spect for hu­man rights” in the cen­ters. The num­ber of mi­grants who passed through the cen­ters plunged to be­low 7,000 last year from over 11,000 in 2012 due to more re­stric­tive cri­te­ria re­gard­ing who needs to be held in them, ac­cord­ing to the head of the Span­ish po­lice, Ig­na­cio Cosido.

Only 41 per­cent of the mi­grants held in the cen­ters last year were fi­nally de­ported, ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment’s om­buds­man. Many end up in a grey zone, with­out per­mis­sion to stay but still in the coun­try, leav­ing them vul­ner­a­ble to ex­ploita­tion. “They be­come can­non fod­der for the job market and are in sit­u­a­tion of semis­lav­ery,” Pode­mos law­maker Ione Be­larra said. —AFP

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