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REFUGEE CRISIS

Spain resists EU pressure to take in 6,000 asylum seekers

Government says it is “saturated” and can only accept 2,749 refugees from Syria and Iraq

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend a press conference in Berlin.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend a press conference in Berlin. AFP

The Spanish government is alleging that the pressure from illegal immigration has “saturated” the country’s ability to accept more newcomers, and is unable to take in 5,849 refugees as part of a European effort to deal with the thousands of people fleeing Syria and other conflict zones.

Instead, the Mariano Rajoy administration has told Brussels that it will only accept 2,749, the same figure discussed by Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz on July 20, before the humanitarian crisis had reached its current proportions.

But the Socialists and left-wing parties in Spain are asking Rajoy, of the conservative Popular Party (PP), to backtrack and accept the quota suggested by the EU.

We take in undocumented migrants at levels that Sweden certainly is not familiar with”

Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría

Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez said that what is happening in Europe is “not just a humanitarian crisis, it is a crisis of solidarity.”

At a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday, Rajoy said that Spain is “willing to discuss the situation again,” but noted that the European Commission needs to do three important things.

“First, it must ask Italy and Greece to build reception centers, otherwise none of the measures we agree to can be implemented. Second, we must create a true European asylum policy. And third, we also need to launch a global immigration policy,” he said.

“What we are doing right now is good, but this is not the kind of policy that the EU needs in the long run. We need to develop asylum and immigration policies, otherwise we will go through similar situations again in future,” added Rajoy.

Few asylum claims

P.O.D. / F.J.P. / J.J.M.

Germany receives the most asylum requests, with a total of 547,034 since 2011, according to figures released by the United Nations. France and Sweden are next with 255,800 and 228,601, respectively. Spain is third from last with 21,112 requests, only ahead of Finland and Montenegro.

Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría on Monday said that Spain was “very saturated” and unable to accept many more refugees because of “the number of undocumented migrants” in the country. In an interview with the SER radio network, she noted that Spain, unlike other EU countries, was making “a very big effort” to take in immigrants who reach Spanish coasts and are leaving their countries for economic reasons, rather than fleeing conflict areas.

“We take in undocumented migrants at levels that Sweden certainly is not familiar with,” said Sáenz de Santamaría about the Scandinavian country, which is the most generous when it comes to accepting asylum seekers.

Last year, Spain received 1,600 asylum requests, representing 0.0034 percent of the Spanish population. Between January and May 2015, the number of requests had grown to 3,800.

“There are countries that don’t have an external EU border and are not permanently receiving people from other parts of the world,” said government sources. “That’s an issue that must be taken into account. We cannot talk about 2,000 people as though that were the only number of people from other countries that Spain is taking in. For other countries, this is a new thing, but in Spain we have been dealing with immigration for a long time.”

The head of the United Left, Cayo Lara, asked the European Union, Spain included, to deal with the refugee situation, which he sees as triggered by the EU, NATO and the United States through their policies in Arab countries.

A worsening situation

In July, when 40,000 people – mostly from Syria and Iraq – began filing asylum claims in Europe, Brussels asked Spain to take in 5,849 refugees. Of this amount, 4,300 would be people already in Italy, and the rest brought in directly from third countries.

But at a meeting of EU justice and interior leaders on July 20, Spain only committed to taking in 2,749.

Since then, however, the humanitarian crisis has ballooned. There are now approximately 300,000 asylum seekers piling up in Greece, the Balkans and Hungary in a bid to reach countries such as Germany, Austria and Sweden. The United Nations has described this exodus as “the most significant humanitarian crisis in Europe since World War II.”