SPAIN. Around a hundred migrants in Ceuta and Melilla, whose asylum request has been admitted to procedure by the Home Office, are now waiting for the courts of justice to decide on their right to move freely within Spain – a right their asylum seekers condition was supposed to recognize.
“To talk about hard times referring to refugees can´t help but being redundant”, says Javier de Lucas, jurist and ex president of the Comisión Española de Ayuda al Refugiado, CEAR (Spanish Commission for Refugee Aid), on a recent article regarding the reform on the Spanish Immigration Act from november 2009, operative after ten months of proceeding at the parliament. Although it includes improvements considering the first draft, humanitarian associations in Spain have shown their disapprovement with it, considering the backward step it entails to the Spanish compromise with the right to asylum and the protection of asylum seekers.
The new spanish Aliens Act eliminates some of the causes it used to put forward to reject asylum petitions, but still humanitarian NGO-s are not satisfied: they condemn the hardening of the migration policies and the shift of European border controls towards other countries.
Spain received more than 4.500 asylum petitions in 2008, the lowest amount since the eighties, and less than half of them where admitted to procedure. Of the admitted causes, just 150 of them obtained full asylum, and another 126 received complementary protection. NGO-s such as CEAR ask themselves: Considering the increasing need for asylum in the world, why are the asylum petitions decreasing in Spain?
Looking at the same period of time, France reached more than 22.000 petitions of asylum and granted almost half of them. Therefore, in 2008 France proposed the creation of an European Pact on Migration and Asylum, approved by the European Council. Amongst the objectives of this pact, lies the development of a European Asylum Policy, aimed to be ready in 2012 with a European Asylum Support Office based in Malta that should be operative by the end of 2010.
The exception proves the rule
Ceuta and Melilla, Spanish cities located in the north of the african continent (where 45% of the migrants in the world come from, according to the UN Refugee Agency), have one special feature related to asylum that is forcing about a hundred migrants to await for the justice to decide whereas they are entitled to move freely within the Spanish land or not, while Brussels has not yet pronounced itself about this matter.
At the beginning of 2010, a couple of African migrants tried to cross over to spanish peninsula holding a yellow card document which proves they are Asylum seeekers whose cause has been admitted to procedure by the Home Office in Spain. When they reached the police control at the port they were prohibited to go through. The police used the Schengen Agreement to justify their rejection, since Ceuta´s and Melilla´s port area is not included in the Schengen territory. “When the migrants returned to the CETI (an open centre for temporary residence of migrants) they were deceived. They´d seen some other colleages cross over to the peninsula and now, without any legal procedure they were rejected”, says a lawyer from CEAR.
The Spanish Commission for Refugee Aid thinks this violates human rights and has therefore presented a formal complaint at the local courts of justice, asking the Home Office to allow these migrants to move freely within the country.
According to the Schengen Agreement, Spain is forced to observe identity control in Ceuta and Mellilla, but lawyer Ángeles Solanes, from the Human Rights Institute at Valencia University, explains that this does not justify the conduct of the Home Office: “Article 5 in the Agreement guarantees that these norms should not be an obscatle for the application of the special regulations regarding asylum”.
Is the yellow card enough for asylum seekers to enter Schengen territory? Around a hundred migrants in Ceuta and Melilla are kept at the african side of the strait Gibraltar without papers, since many of them have thrown their identity documents away, afraid that they could contribute to getting them deported.
CEAR says that the Spanish Constitution guarantees the right of the asylum seekers to “circulate freely within Spanish territory and to choose a place to live with no further limitations than those laid down by the law”, and so has supported the Spanish Ombudsman, Enrique Múgica. In the meantime police sources have shown their concern regarding the outcomes of the new Asylum Act, considering it could cause a “pull effect” amongst migrants which could “colapse the Spanish border”.
While Justice takes its time to decide between the narrow and wide interpretation of the law, dozens of migrants, yellow card in hand, keep on waiting.