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The Ombudsman calls for a step up in the transfer of migrants to peninsular Spain

The Ombudsman calls for a step up in the transfer of migrants to peninsular Spain

03-03-2021

–  Experts at the institution have overseen operations at over twenty reception, detention and hosting facilities for foreign nationals on the Canary Islands

– The main deficiencies identified include a lack of suitable facilities and an absence of swift and efficient identification protocols for referring vulnerable individuals

– Having once again detected collective reading of rights and legal counsel, the institution insists that immediacy does not justify a lack of guarantees in legal assistance

– Mr Fernández Marugán calls for solidarity from autonomous communities to improve protection of unaccompanied foreign minorsIn light of the increase in migrants from Morocco, he calls for changes to consular policy, exploring the options that job seeker visas can provide and facilitating procedures for regrouping families

– He welcomes the 3rd Africa Plan, which champions involvement of the European Union in a common migration policy

Madrid. 03/03/2021. Acting Spanish Ombudsman, Mr Francisco Fernández Marugán, today filed a monograph at the Spanish Parliament addressing migration on the Canary Islands over the last year. During that period, 23,023 individuals arrived at the coast of the archipelago. The document includes the main conclusions drawn by the institution which, over the last few months of 2020, performed exhaustive oversight of the facilities for reception, detention and hosting of foreign nationals.

Mr Fernández Marugán believes that the solidarity of Spain’s autonomous communities is needed in order to address the situation and calls for a common European policy on migration. In light of this, he has welcomed the 3rd Africa Plan, which has been in force since 2019.

In the Ombudsman’s opinion, it is important to “make the most of the opportunity presented by this crisis to look beyond the emergency situation and adopt a migration policy that takes the specific needs of our employment market and society into account, within the framework of a European policy.”

The Ombudsman highlights that there was an increase in migration from Morocco in 2020 and, by way of example, he points out that, out of the 19,852 individuals who arrived at the province of Las Palmas in 2020, around 80% were from Morocco, followed by only 3,104 citizens from Mali. In his opinion, the time has come to “address certain changes to our consular policy including, for example, considering the options that job seeker visas offer and facilitating procedures for regrouping families or receiving students from Morocco in Spain.”

Over twenty visits across six islands

Further to receipt of a number of complaints, and in order to supplement the information gathered on several ex officio missions, experts from the institution inspected centres run by the Central Government, the autonomous community and local authorities on Gran Canaria, Tenerife, La Palma, El Hierro, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote.

The conditions at seven police detention centres, the documentation at three police stations, five humanitarian hosting facilities, three centres for unaccompanied foreign minors and an examining magistrate’s court were overseen. Furthermore, the areas at the ports on the six islands where migrants arrive on makeshift vessels and are initially received were also inspected.

In December, Mr Fernández Marugán also travelled to Gran Canaria where he met the President of the Canary Islands, the Government Delegate, authorities from the autonomous community and representatives of several NGOs.

The main deficiencies observed included a lack of suitable facilities and an absence of swift and efficient identification protocols for referring vulnerable individuals.

Collective reading of rights and legal counsel were also observed during the visits. The institution has insisted that “the legal assistance that these individuals receive when they arrive at the coast plays a fundamental role in ensuring that the compilation of guarantees laid out by the legal system functions properly.” Once again, as has repeatedly been observed each time that there is an increase in arrivals, there are attempts to justify that the urgency of the situation and the pursuit of efficacy make providing individual legal assistance with minimum material guarantees impossible.

The Ombudsman has once again repeated that complying with certain formalities does not mean that essential rights are being guaranteed. With this in mind, he has insisted that legal representatives who provide services and bar associations must ensure that the legal assistance that is given is effective. In the Ombudsman’s opinion, legal representatives must demand means to ensure that at least minimum standards are maintained when assistance of this nature is provided.

A recurrent situation

In the Ombudsman’s opinion, some of this lack of coordination (which has, once again, been evidenced during this increase in arrivals at the Canary Islands) is explained by the fact that responsibility for migration management is spread across different ministerial departments and the Spanish Government, autonomous communities and local councils.

For years, the institution has insisted on the need for “efficient and effective coordination mechanisms for improving management of arrivals at the coast of Spain, marrying border control with the interests of the general public and with protection of the rights of foreign nationals, particularly those who are most vulnerable.”

In 2018, following an increase in arrivals along the Mediterranean arch, visits were arranged and recommendations for trying to improve reception and hosting conditions and detection of individuals with international protection needs, minors and victims of human trafficking were made. Mr Fernández Marugán gave an account of this at a meeting with the Joint Committee for Relations with the Ombudsman.

In his latest report, Mr Fernández Marugán points out that many of the deficiencies that were highlighted in 2018 remain: “once again, we have witnessed a race against time in the search for places where new arrivals can be hosted with dignity.”

He points out that “the exponential increase in arrivals has collapsed the islands’ capacity to host, forcing the need to set up several temporary arrangements including hotels, industrial warehouses and camps. Some, such as the dock in Aguineguín, ended up hosting thousands of individuals in precarious and overcrowded conditions.”

According to the institution, the search for suitable places on the Canary Islands must continue, but transfers to peninsular Spain, in particular of individuals whose circumstances are most critical, must also be fostered.

Restrictions on freedom of movement and residency

During its visits, the institution was able to ascertain that the hosting system on the Canary Islands for irregular migrants  who, for one reason or another, have not been deported, and for asylum seekers lacks sufficient capacity for addressing the needs of these individuals in suitable residential facilities.

The Ombudsman believes that “arguments such as migrant control and preventing the pull factor cannot be used as the basis for turning certain areas of the coast in southern Europe into places where rights such as freedom of movement are curtailed.”

Restrictions on freedom of movement for asylum seekers in Ceuta and Melilla, and now on the Canary Islands, are the subject of recurrent complaints filed at the Ombudsman’s Office. For years, the institution has been highlighting that asylum seekers have the fundamental right to freedom of movement throughout Spain and that they can choose to reside anywhere on national territory, as long as the Administration is informed about it. Further to numerous court decisions, this criteria is now Supreme Court doctrine.

However, complaints filed at the institution on the Canary Islands indicate that international protection seekers continue to be robbed of this right and, as a result, the Ombudsman has had to issue the Police Force a reminder about legal rights.

On the other hand, numerous complaints have been filed by Senegalese and Moroccan individuals with passports indicating that they have been refrained at the airport from boarding their plane to the peninsula, despite having relatives who are willing to host them.

The Ombudsman’s Office is concerned about legal cover for foreign nationals with ID in Spain and the Secretary of State for Security’s refusal to adhere to the provisions of the deportation directive according to which Member States are required to provide individuals who, for a range of reasons, cannot be deported within the legal time frame with documents.

Furthermore, in the specific case of the Canary Islands, it believes that addressing this situation is imperative given that it has a direct impact on rational and efficient management of the resources for hosting individuals which, in its opinion, “should never be used as camps at which foreign nationals must wait sine die until their return can be arranged.”

Unaccompanied foreign minors

According to data provided by the organism for the protection of minors on the Canary Islands, as of 12 February 2021, it had 2,666 unaccompanied foreign minors under its care. Given that the resources available to the protection system on the Canary Islands are insufficient for hosting these individuals, it has been necessary to set up emergency centres once again.

The Ombudsman acknowledges the effort made in order to provide these young children with the immediate support that they need. However, he points out that “it is unreasonable that protection services for minors on the Canary Islands have to face this challenge alone.”

With this in mind, he has issued a reminder that the reforms made to the Immigration Act in 2009 provide tools for addressing this situation. He welcomes the steps already taken by the organisation for the protection of minors on the Canary Islands to reach agreements with other autonomous communities in order to adopt tutelage and custody of these individuals with the aim of guaranteeing that they are given better conditions for integration. In his opinion, it is “a very necessary initiative that would help to relieve the huge number of minors that are staying at the different emergency resource centres.”

Mr Fernández Marugán also points out that the legislation also provides for another possibility which has never been activated. That is, the Central Government and autonomous communities can establish agreements with non-governmental organisations, foundations and entities for the protection of minors with the aim of assigning them their tutelage. In his opinion, “successfully setting up this measure calls for political interest, leadership for coordination purposes and funds from the Central Government.”

Conclusions

The study makes short, mid and long-term proposals for avoiding recurrence of situations such as the one experienced on the Canary Islands.

The institution believes that, in the short term, the situation calls for hosting facilities with a range of permanent facilities that remove the need to improvise on the go; provision of more personal and material resources; definition of clear operating procedures; clear and precise implementation standards for regulating each situation (minors, women with children, asylum and international protection seekers); systems for identifying individuals who are lost during the trajectory; and a family member assistance office and specific means for ensuring that xenophobia does not build up within the general population.

In the mid- and long term, the Ombudsman believes that a coordination system that fuses together the different Central Government and autonomous community organisms is required.

He also believes that a consensual and stable coordination agreement with autonomous communities needs to be reached in order to find means of undertaking unified collaboration initiatives.

 3rd Africa Plan

Last of all, Mr Fernández Marugán believes that “Spain cannot implement a migration policy that does not involve our European partners” and that an agreed project at the heart of the European Union is a necessity.

Within this context, the Ombudsman’s Office welcomes the 3rd Africa Plan, which has been in operation since 2019 and through which Spain aims to undertake an initiative to determine migration policy for southern European countries.

In the institution’s opinion, the plan, which includes a comprehensive strategy addressing support and financial aid, diplomatic relations, socio-economic measures and reinforcement of security capabilities in the area, is a positive initiative for laying solid mid and long-term foundations that may be used to regulate our relationship with Africa.

 


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