Who is a refugee?
A refugee is someone who flees their country because their life is in danger and they are looking for protection in another country. Spanish legislation establishes a refugee as anyone outside their country of nationality facing a threat of persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, political views, membership of a particular social group, being of certain sexual orientation or gender, and who cannot or, due to these threats, does not want to be protected in that country.
The Law on International Protection is based on the non-refoulement principle in Article 33.1 of the 1951 Geneva Convention. 'No Contracting State shall expel or return ('refouler') a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his [or her] life or freedom would be threatened on account of his [or her] race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion'.
What is the difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker?
The difference is legal. A refugee is someone who has already obtained international protection. An asylum seeker is someone who has requested it, but has not yet received a decision. Therefore, all refugees have previously been asylum seekers.
How is a migrant different?
The difference is the legislation that applies in each case. In the case of those seeking international protection, the applicable legislation is Law 12/2009 of 30 October regulating the right of asylum and subsidiary protection. Other foreigners come under Framework Act 4/2000 of 11 January on the rights and freedoms of aliens in Spain and their social integration.
Refugees and migrants alike have left their country of origin or residence in search of safety. There are various reasons for their doing that, ranging from armed conflicts, internal violence and human rights' violations to natural disasters and poverty.
The main difference is that refugees have been forced to flee their country of origin and cannot return until the situation that forced them to leave improves. Migrants have left in search of a better life and future but they are free to return.
That said, many people deemed 'economic migrants' would not be able to ensure subsistence for their families if they returned to their country. They should therefore have access to a system of international protection. As Hannah Arendt says, 'we never make a distinction between those fleeing poverty and those fleeing bombs'.
How many refugees are there in the world?
The UNHCR calculates there are around 70 million forcibly displaced people in the world. Of these, over half have been displaced within the borders of their own country, over a third have had to leave their country and only 4.6% of those who have fled apply for asylum in another country.
Unfortunately, for years the number of displaced persons has been growing at an increasing rate. In 2017, 16.2 million people, or 44,000 a day, abandoned their home.
The country of origin of most refugees is Syria, followed by Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia. Palestinians continue to be the largest refugee population worldwide, with millions of people spread through the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon and other countries in the Middle East and Persian Gulf.
Excluding Palestinian refugees, the main regions refugees come from are Asia and Africa.
Where are they?
Most are received in the bordering countries and in developing regions, with one in four in the least developed countries. More than 40% reside in countries with a GDP per capita of approximately 4,500 euros; more than six times lower than Catalonia.
Africa is the region with the most displaced people and refugees worldwide, due to wars, the violation of human rights and famine.
Of all the refugees under the UNHCR mandate around the world, almost half live between Africa and the Middle East. The main countries that receive them are Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia and Jordan. Russia, Germany, the USA, Italy and Turkey receive the most requests for international protection.
Lebanon, a very small country which is only a third the size of Catalonia and with half its GDP per capita, today has one refugee to every four inhabitants.
Where do people who reach Europe come from and what does the European Union do to help them?
Most people come from war-torn countries by their own means, usually by plane or road. In 2015, 650,000 people requested international protection from one of the 28 EU member states, particularly Germany, Italy and France, who received almost half of all applications in 2016.
Strengthened control of its external borders and lack of regulated arrival routes in the European Union has left a large proportion of people trapped in their countries of origin and transit countries, and they are forced to put themselves at the mercy of mafias and follow dangerous routes.
Everything indicates that in 2018, the Mediterranean is still the main route to the EU, and it is also the area where most deaths are recorded. Between 2015 and 2017, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) 14,652 people died in the Mediterranean.
In Barcelona, most requests for international protection come from Venezuela, plus Colombia, Honduras, Georgia and Ukraine.
Does Spain receive a lot of refugees? And how many more will come?
Spain receives few refugees compared to other countries in the European Union despite being one of the four largest countries. In fact, it has never been generous in its protection for people in need of refuge and has never been seen as a first-choice destination.
In any case, whilst asylum requests in the EU fell by 50% in 2017, mainly due to the reduction in the number of applications in Germany, Spain recorded a two-fold increase on the previous year, almost 5% of the entire EU. According to ministerial data, the number of applications for international protection has increased ten-fold since 2011 (from 3,422 in 2011 to 31,563 in 2018).
The main countries of origin of people seeking international protection all over the country are Venezuela, Syria, Colombia, Palestine, Ukraine, El Salvador and Honduras.
The increase in applications, however, does confer a proportional increase in the number of decisions issued, and as a result the number of cases pending is now considerably higher. At the end of February 2018, the collapse of the asylum system affected 42,025 people. The waiting time simply to formalise the application was five months.
On a negative note, 65% of applications are denied. This places Spain with a recognition rate of 35%, below the EU average (46%) and, in particular, below its own recognition rate of 2016 (67%) due to the maximum percentage of applications from people from Syria.
Is it easy to get asylum? Who decides?
Asylum policy is the sole responsibility of the State and falls within the remit of the Ministry of the Interior. Asylum has to be applied for and applicants must undergo in-depth interviews and wait a month before they can find out whether their application has been accepted. The process may drag on for a period between one and three years, though the Spanish authorities should make a decision within six months.
The figures for international protection granted by Spain are very low compared to the average for other European countries with a similar population size and GDP, and the number of applications is also low.
What are the benefits of the state programme?
Requesting international protection is a legal process that does not confer any social benefits.
Those with no resources of their own who are claiming asylum can turn to the state programme once their application has been accepted.
The programme is managed by social bodies and NGOs through a competitive call for subsidies from the Ministry of Labour, Migration and Social Security. The programme consists of three phases of six months, divided according to the level of care those admitted receive. Before the application can be processed, there is an assessment and referral phase (Phase 0) to evaluate the asylum seeker's profile and needs in order to refer them to the appropriate resources. This is explained in the Government's 'Manual for the Reception and Integration System for Asylum Seekers and Beneficiaries of International Protection'.
Once this assessment has taken place, the three-phase integration process can begin.
The reception phase (first phase) consists of entering a reception centre or facility and trying to meet the applicant's basic needs from the time they arrive (accommodation and subsistence, social intervention, psychological care, training, interpretation and translation, and legal advice).
The integration phase (second phase) begins when people finish their stay in the reception facility and require ongoing support. This is mainly carried out through social intervention and financial assistance and is always in the same autonomous community where the processing of the application began.
Processing can be completed with a third phase in which the recipient may need temporary or sporadic help in specific areas.
Refugees have an advantage over other migrant residents as they are automatically granted the right to work and they can apply for citizenship after five years rather than ten.
What happens if the State refuses to grant them asylum?
Many people seeking international protection cannot return to their countries of origin because their lives would be in danger. Just because applicants are refused protection does not mean it is safe for them to return. Refusals turn applicants into immigrants in an irregular situation, denied any legal protection unless they have some kind of residence permit.
And what does the City Council do?
Asylum does not fall within the remit of the City Council. Since 1989, however, the Service Centre For Immigrants, Emigrants And Refugees (SAIER), which is managed by the City Council together with some social bodies in the city, has been providing help and advice to refugees. It is the point of access for the state reception programme and covers any shortfall as it is responsible for basic requirements and care of the most vulnerable during Phase 0 until they can access the programme.
In the face of the current serious humanitarian crisis, the City Council put in place the 'Barcelona, Refugee City' plan, with the aim of preparing the city to receive and assist refugees, to provide the services they need and protect their rights. The plan also works on actions abroad and to provide support at the place of origin and along the route.
The plan includes the Nausica Programme, a comprehensive programme for those seeking international protection and refugees that live in the city and who, for various reasons, have been excluded from the state programme.
How many people have sought asylum in Barcelona and how many more will come in the future?
SAIER is the point of access for social care for people who arrive in Barcelona via their own means, both individuals and families. There is a constant trickle of arrivals and there has been an exponential increase in the last few years. The reasons for coming are very varied and depend on different factors, such as conflict or violence in the country of origin, or even the opening or closure of formal and informal entry routes.
In any case, beyond the number of places available in the state or local temporary accommodation network, which reflects the number of people being looked after by the social welfare, data on those with refugee or international protection status cannot be extracted from the municipal register and so it is only possible to estimate the numbers.
Where do they stay?
Requesting international protection is a legal process that does not confer any social benefits. In other words, there are many people seeking international protection who live on their own means just like any other citizen. Those with no resources of their own who are claiming asylum can turn to the state programme once their application has been accepted.
The reception phase (first phase) of this programme consists of entering a reception centre or facility where the basic needs of the recipient are met from the moment they arrive.
The State has around 10,000 places in centres throughout the country. In Catalonia, there are around 700 places for this first phase, and around 300 in Barcelona, managed by various NGOs.
Catalonia has always had a lack of places for temporary reception in relation to the number of asylum applications it receives.
Privately-owned vacant flats that can be made available to organisations dealing with new arrivals are useful. The City Council also relies on and promotes reception initiatives in the city such as Refugees Welcome, the Hospitality Network by Migra Studium-SJM and Punt de Referència.
What is the impact of the arrival of more refugees in Barcelona?
The 'Barcelona, Refugee City' plan was implemented to prepare the city and ensure the people who arrive here are received with dignity and respecting all their rights, as well as to avoid any detriment to other groups in the city. For this reason, the social care network was reinforced to create a parallel structure, which allows everyone to benefit.
Do refugees have guaranteed access to public services such as education and health care?
Barcelona guarantees the rights of all residents regardless of their legal status and uses inclusion in the census as a way to access local services.
All minors living in Barcelona must go to school if they are of compulsory-education age. Their incorporation into the education system does not undermine its quality; quite the reverse, as diversity is a positive value that contributes towards the education of young people and children.
People seeking international protection are immediately entitled to receive an individual health card (TSI) and general health care. Being a refugee is not synonymous with being ill, so health care for refugees will not undermine anyone else's.
How can I help?
I want to volunteer. How can I do this?
Refugees and people seeking international protection are in a highly vulnerable situation that requires specialised, individual care and attention. For this reason, volunteering should focus on tasks to help new arrivals to integrate into the city and daily social life.
The 'Barcelona, Refugee City' plan has a civic space to coordinate activities for citizens to participate in and offers of resources and services it has received, in conjunction with local organisations and groups.
What about humanitarian visas? Can they apply for one?
Only some European countries have humanitarian visas relating to refugees. In France, for example, there is the 'visa for asylum', which their diplomatic representatives abroad can grant to those needing protection with the aim of them arriving in the country legally to then apply for asylum.
Humanitarian visas are not regulated in the European Union, but there is a legal basis to do so in the Schengen Visa Code. These are known as limited territorial validity visas (LTV). As established in Article 25.1, they are a type of temporary visa that only gives access to the State where it was issued and that can be granted under exceptional circumstances when the State deems it necessary for humanitarian reasons, due to the national interest or their international obligations.
Article 19.4 of the Visa Code also states that, for humanitarian reasons or due to questions of national interest, admission conditions required to obtain the visa may be limited, and these may be difficult for refugees to meet.
Limited territorial validity visas may be applied for at consulates located in third countries in the European Union and at its external borders. According to data from Eurostat, Spain issued around 17,000 last year. The statistics do not give a breakdown of the reasons.
I know refugees who would like to come to Barcelona, and I can and want to help them. How can I do this?
It is very difficult to help them get to Spain so they can apply for asylum. It all depends on where they are from, their personal situation, their resources and the help you can offer them. Your best bet is to discuss it with the SAIER legal services.
If they are already in Europe, then those countries are responsible for processing their asylum application, and if they arrive in Spain via their own means, they may be returned.
There are only three legal ways for refugees to enter: family reunification in the country where they have direct family members with refugee status or who have requested asylum; resettlement from a first country where they found protection; and humanitarian admission, when temporary protection is offered to vulnerable groups of refugees in third countries.
Spain's asylum legislation provides for the possibility of its ambassadors abroad being able to decide on whether a person may enter Spanish territory to apply for asylum, but this is a discretionary power and it only applies to people who are outside their own national country and claim their physical integrity is at risk. The regulation according to the law, and which has not yet been passed, will determine the access conditions for those seeking asylum in embassies and consulates, and the process to evaluate the need for them to be transferred to Spain.
If they have resources, the alternative is to try to get a temporary visa for travelling to Spain and then apply for asylum once they get here.