Increased Asylum Seekers in Spain: A Manifestation of the Chronic Refugee Crisis in Europe

Increased asylum seekers in Spain are notable annually, with the majority originating from Latin America, particularly Venezuela and Colombia. Despite this, Spain’s success rate in resolving claims lags significantly behind the EU average. Only 16.5% of nearly 87,000 claims receive favourable resolutions, contrasting with the EU’s 38.5% average. Growing asylum seekers in Spain prompt a closer examination of immigration trends and challenges.

History of migration to Spain

It took little more than a decade, during the 90s, for Spain to become a country of immigration rather than emigration. In a fast process that brought it into line with traditional European countries of immigration. During the 2000-2009 period, Spain received some of the highest numbers of immigrants in the whole European Union.

Changes in the Spanish migratory balance between 1940 and the present day indicate the exceptional nature of the period between 1991 and 2009: in this time frame, figures topped 600,000 persons for six consecutive years. In the years following the 2008 crisis, however, the foreign population living in Spain began to drop. Increasing permanent residency and a growing emigrant population, Spanish and foreign, contributed to this trend.

From 2000 onwards, authorities established the main migration management structures and instruments, prioritising border control issues. These structures included the Sector-based Conference on Immigration and the Tripartite Labour Commission on Immigration. A government advisory body working with the main trade unions and business organisations. Instruments encompass a border control system and bilateral agreements with countries of emigration concerning workforce or readmission.

Understanding refugee status and asylum seekers

Refugees are people who are recognized as refugees under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol. As refugees following the UNHCR statute, people were granted refugee-like humanitarian status, and people provided temporary protection. Asylum seekers are excluded. People awaiting decisions or registered as asylum seekers have applied for asylum or refugee status. The country granting asylum is where they filed and received approval for their claim.

Increased asylum seekers in Spain numbered more than 163,000 refugees

The Asylum and Refugee Office (OAR) of the Ministry of Home Affairs received 163,218 applications for international protection in 2023. Provisional data as of December 31 shows a 37% increase from the previous year, marking the highest number since 1992. These figures place Spain as the third largest recipient of international protection in the European Union. By nationality, the country of origin of the largest number of applicants was Venezuela, with 60,534 applications, 37 per cent of the total. It was followed by Colombia (53,564) and Peru (14,306). The three countries account for 78.6 per cent of the total number of cases registered.

By place of submission, the Community of Madrid tops the list of autonomous communities with the highest number of applications (52,684). It was followed by Andalusia (25,948) and Catalonia (14,775). The Ministry of Home Affairs, also, resolved a total of 92,963 international protection cases in 2023. It represents an increase of 1.8 per cent over the previous year.

Spain-Morocco cooperation to solve refugee crisis

The Spanish government has formally requested Morocco’s cooperation in preventing Senegalese passport holders. These people lacked a Schengen visa in the past two years, from boarding flights with layovers in Spain until February. Schengen Visa Info reported this move before enforcing a transit visa requirement for Senegalese nationals passing through Spain.

The request for collaboration between Spain and Morocco underscores the challenges posed by rising asylum claims in Spain. Data from the Office of Asylum and Refuge (OAR) of the Ministry of the Interior reveal a significant uptick in applications for international protection, reaching 163,218 in the previous year.

This figure, however, represents a 37% increase from 2022, marking the highest recorded number since the establishment of the office in 1992. Which means Increased asylum seekers in Spain. Three decades of migration deals between Spain and Morocco have led to fortified and almost impenetrable borders for asylum seekers. Spain has failed to reopen safe and legal routes for people seeking asylum in its North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. It happened since the COVID-19 pandemic, NGOs told Euronews.

“Spanish authorities have shut the border without giving any sort of asylum access”, Mar Soriano, the legal adviser for the Melilla-based Solidary Wheels NGO, told Euronews. “Moroccan border guards disproportionately discriminate against Black people, limiting their access to the border. Migrant rights NGOs accuse Spanish authorities of unlawfully and discriminatively implementing pushback policies. It includes expulsions against “Black” asylum seekers of Sub-Saharan origin at the EU’s external borders of Ceuta and Melilla in Northern Morocco. It has occurred since the declaration of a state of emergency in March 2020.

Asylum figures

Between 70,000 and 80,000 people trying to claim asylum in Spain were unable to get appointments in 2022, the head of the Spanish refugee commission CEAR. “Accessing the asylum process typically takes six months on average, but this varies significantly by region,” noted Estrella Galan, presenting the NGO’s annual report. Helena Munoz, CEAR’s legal coordinator, said that this prolonged waiting period traps potential refugees in legal limbo. She added it denying them access to healthcare, education, and social assistance, and exposing them to potential deportation. Munoz argued that this situation violates European law. The law stipulates that anyone wishing to seek asylum should be able to do so within three to six days.

Demographics of asylum seekers

The demographics of asylum seekers in Spain significantly differ from those in many other EU countries. The top five countries of origin in 2022 included Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Morocco, and Honduras. Last year, hundreds stormed Melilla’s border fence, leading Spain’s ombudsman to uncover 470 illegal pushback cases.  Besides that, at least 37 people died in the violent border confrontation, according to CEAR.

Refugees tragic accident

In February 2014, over 15 Sub-Saharan refugees attempted to swim around the seawall between Ceuta and Morocco. All of them drowned off the coast of Ceuta after local police opened fire with large rubber bullets. this “tragic” case remains unprobed, according to Amnesty International. Later that same month, more than 200 people successfully reached Spanish territory. It happens after storming the massive barrier fence that separates Ceuta from Morocco.

A 25-year-old from Cameroon has filed a complaint to the UN against Spain. In 2014, he accused the country of multiple torture convention violations, seeking justice. During this case, at least 15 people died while trying to enter Spanish territory from Morocco. Ludovic was 15 when he joined about 200 people trying to make it to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta from Morocco. By then he had been living rough as an undocumented minor in the north African country for about 18 months.

Spain’s response to the chronic refugee crisis in Europe

Europe’s refugee crisis extends to Spain, with a notable rise in asylum seekers, especially from Latin America. Despite the rising numbers, Spain’s success rate in resolving claims falls well below the EU average. The transition from emigration to immigration in the 1990s highlights Spain’s migration complexity. Spain established migration structures prioritising border control, and managing influx with varying success. Recent tragic incidents at the Ceuta-Morocco border underline ongoing challenges for asylum seekers entering Spain. Spain must effectively address issues, ensuring compliance with international law and upholding refugee rights. Increased asylum seekers in Spain necessitate a comprehensive and humane approach to migration management that prioritises the protection and well-being of vulnerable individuals seeking refuge.

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