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State of emergency in Spain: how the border lockdown impacts on asylum seekers and migrants

In response to the coronavirus outbreak the Spanish government introduced a state of emergency on March, 14th. The Royal Decree came into force the next day. On March, 16th Spain close its borders and the Government posed restrictions on travel for third-country nationals. Although the new regulation did not suspend the right to asylum, the number of asylum applications has dropped significantly. From the 9th to the 15th of March 3,800 applications were filed, whilst the third week of March after the beginning of the quarantine only 25 were registered. 

Due to the situation of emergency the authorities have implemented temporary solutions for migrants and asylum seekers. First, they announced that all residence permits expiring during the state of emergency would be automatically renewed until its end (as a result of the suspension of administrative procedures)and asylum seekers would preserve their rights to public assistance too.On May, 20th the government approved an automatic extension of six months for all residency and work permits that were due to expire during the state of alarm. This policy measure has been approved in accordance with all social and economic agents. This is to avoid the ‘sudden’ fall into irregularity when the state of emergency finishes and the collapse of foreign affairs offices. This ministerial decree also affects the residence permits for students, internships, family members of EU residents, and those had an authorisation to remain in the country for less than 90 days. 

Human rights and social organizations warn about the precarious situation of people who remain to be locked down in temporary reception centres in Melilla and Ceuta (the so-called CETIs). Since the number of people living there (over 1,600 in Melilla) more than doubles its capacity, it becomes difficult to guarantee them effective health protection and prevent the spread of infection. At the beginning of April, 13 people residing in the CETI of Ceuta started a hunger strikeas a sign of protest. 

As soon as it was impossible to execute repatriations due to the mobility restrictions, all Detention Centres for Foreigners (CIEs, in Spanish) were closed. The residents who were in the seven CIEs were thus released, posing problems for them to find adequate housing and support. Moreover, their situation is unclear, as it must be considered that when the state ofemergency finishes, they can be arrested by the police and their repatriation order maybe reactivated. 

On the other hand, at the beginning of April the Ministry of Interior violated the suspension of administrative procedures foreseen in the state of alarm to rule a quick repatriation of irregular migrants who arrived in a small boat in the Canarias Islands. Also, at the end of April, the Ministry of Interior affirmed that it is collaborating with the government of Tunis to repatriate approximately 600 people, whose repatriation order is concluded,from the CETI of Melilla. The repatriations shall be implemented as soon as there are available flights and borders open again. In response, some migrants have started a hunger strike too. 

The Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta are the only land borders the EU shares with Africa and constitute important entry points of irregular migrants and asylum seekers. According to the European Commission due to anti-covid restrictions, the number of irregular entries in Spain has decreased considerably in comparison to the same period in 2019 (24%). On April, 7tha group of migrants attempted to climb the fence in Melilla, but since the border with Morocco remains closed, returns are not possible. This group of migrants was allocated in a camp for homeless people and Moroccan migrants who are stuck in Spain waiting to return. 

CIDOB Barcelona Centre for International Affairs

Kseniya Homel
The European and Migration Policy Programme
Institute of Public Affairs