Trans-Iberian

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Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

Migrant crisis: Spanish citizens call on government to do more for refugees

Por: | 03 de septiembre de 2015

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Refugees board a train in Budapest / LASZLO BALOGH

Residents in Barcelona are offering to house asylum seekers as part of a new initiative spearheaded by social activist turned mayor, Ada Colau. Authorities hope to facilitate volunteers who wish to open up their house in a scheme similar to the Berlin-based Refugees Welcome scheme being dubbed the “Airbnb for refugees.”

The proposal follows international increasing outrage at the deaths and mistreatment of migrants attempting to start a new life in Europe. Last week, Colau criticized the government’s “pathetic” response to the European migrant crisis. The post went viral and received more than 68,000 shares on Facebook.  

On Monday, Colau announced the plan following a meeting with local migrant charities and, in a post on Facebook the same day, said that “large numbers” of families had already offered to house refugees or provide other forms of support. New left-wing mayors in Madrid, Valencia and several other cities have also pledged their support.

“I want to thank all those who have got in touch with us because their solidarity is an honor and a credit to our city,” Colau wrote on Monday. “We call on [Prime Minister Mariano] Rajoy’s government to change its policies and use the funds it receives from [the European Union] to this end. We must stop haggling over what pathetic number of refugees we can take in and take action to raise that number.”

Eliane Van Branteghem, 35, from Vigo, Galicia, is among the citizens on social media offering to take in refugees. She said the idea to offer a room in the house she shares with her mother came in response to the sadness they felt watching news of regular migrant tragedies.

“We have spent the last few days watching the devastating footage of mothers, children and desperate people searching for a better future and many of them either perishing along the way or being rejected on arrival,” she said.

“Seeing what Ada Colau proposed we asked ourselves how we could do our bit. We live in a house with several rooms and we we thought we could be that light of hope they are searching for,” she continued. “[We could] be a springboard to help them to integrate into a new country, a new world. We are all equal and our rights are the same, why shouldn’t we share what we have just because we happen to be ‘the lucky ones’”?

For María Lluisa Varela Fuertes, 59, from Spain’s northern León region, it was her experience growing up in Venezuela as one of many Spanish immigrant families that inspired her to want to help others.

“I’ve also lived through difficult periods in my life and I am grateful that others were there to help me,” she said, adding that the Madrid government’s tough stance on immigration echoed its painful anti-austerity policies. “The government doesn’t just turn its back to the hardships of the Spanish people but also to the plight [of migrants].”

Barcelona City Council also announced plans to double the budget for the agency responsible for migrants and refugees. The city has received around 700 applications for asylum this year, with a further 300 expected by the end of 2015. However, responsibility for accepting asylum seekers and negotiating Spain’s share of European Union migrants lies with Madrid.

Rajoy’s governing conservative Popular Party (PP) branded Colau’s initiative “irresponsible” and called on her to clarify how many refugees the city proposed to take in. The PP has taken a hard line on illegal immigration and last month warned four regional governments that they faced strong measures for violating a 2012 decree by giving undocumented migrants access to the public healthcare system within their jurisdictions.

Following a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday, Rajoy announced that Spain would accept 2,739 asylum seekers — less than half what the European Commission suggested. Spain refused to participate in a Europe-wide quota system when it was announced earlier this year, but Rajoy recently promised to play a “very constructive” role in EU migrant talks set for Sept. 14.

For Colau, though, Spain needs to do more to support the international effort.

“Turkey, Greece and Lebanon are taking in millions of refugees. Spain, despite having far greater resources, will receive barely 2,000,” Colau wrote. “These are not ‘quotas,’ they are human lives.”

Barcelona Deputy Mayor Gerardo Pisarello said Spain received considerable funding from the European Union to deal with migration but spent most of it on border security.

In recent years, Spain has constructed giant perimeter fences around the tiny North African enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta to prevent migrants entering the country illegally. On Monday one Guinea man’s attempts to elude immigration controls made headlines after he was found hidden behind a car engine.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has detected 350,000 migrants entering Europe since January, though the real figure could be considerably higher. Of these, approximately 230,000 arrived via Greece, nearly 115,000 through Italy and around 2,000 via Spain. European leaders will meet on Sept. 14 in Brussels to discuss the EU’s response to the crisis.

Germany has accepted more refugees than any other European country and expects to accept around 800,000 asylum seekers by the end of 2015.

Last week United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, called on Europe to meet its obligations to the “unprecedented” refugee crisis.

He said almost 300,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year — around 2,500 died during the crossing. Guterres called on Europe as a whole to meet this demand and not to leave responsibility to a handful of countries.

“It is clear that Europe has the capacities and the size needed to meet the challenges, assuming that it shows unity and jointly assume this responsibility,” Guterres said during a press conference in Geneva.

Frustration with the EU’s sluggish response to the crisis has sparked numerous protests and citizen initiatives across Europe. The Berlin-based Refugees Welcome campaign matches people willing to share their homes with refugees. Organizers say the scheme has met with huge success and plans are underway to begin to introduce the idea in other countries.

Volunteers pledged to help in Barcelona, and later in half a dozen other municipalities, after an earlier call to action by Colau went viral last week with more than 68,000 shares.

“Europe, Europeans: Let’s open our eyes. There will never be enough walls or enough fences to stop this,” Colau wrote on Facebook. “If we don’t tackle this human drama through our capacity for compassion that makes us human, we will end up being dehumanized by it. And there will be more deaths. Many more deaths.”

She also made reference to the many Spaniards forced to flee the country during and after the Spanish Civil War.

“It could be our children, our sisters or our mothers. It could be us; many of our grandparents were once exiled.”

By Sam Edwards

@SamShepEdwards

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of Andalucia.com and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at korenhelbig.com.

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area perelloplus.com. @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Spain-Holiday.com. Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check: www.lookingfordrama.com.

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