Local government in Madrid to provide alternatives to detention for migrants

By Borislav Dimitrov (Penkov)

Last month, the Madrid City Council announced its plans to work on preventing the detention of migrants in irregular situation in the Identification and Expulsion Center of the city. It published a working paper on the issue, which was based on the conclusions drafted by a working group consisting of various institutions and civil society organizations.

The local government opposes the existence of migrant detention centers as such, but as it has no jurisdiction over migration policy, it came up instead with a range of measures to reduce the number of migrants who end up in detention.

First of all, the City Council agreed to issue social reports on irregular migrants residing in Madrid who have a deportation procedure initiated against them. These reports are meant to be presented to the court that reviews their detention orders so as to show that there are community-based alternatives – the migrant has a stable residence and her/his deprivation of liberty is unnecessary.

Secondly, to those who cannot demonstrate such stable residence in the community, the City Council will offer housing and food in protected facilities, making detention unnecessary and thus – avoiding it.

In addition, the Madrid local government will help those migrants whose detention was not prevent. The City Council plans to hire social workers to attend and watch for the rights of the detainees, and to publish periodic reports on the conditions in the centre.

These Madrid City Council’s measures come against the backdrop of increasing number of migrants reaching Spain by sea in the last months. Just recently, the Spanish coastguard rescued 593 people in one day from 15 small boats, including 35 children and a baby. This one-day figure is said to be the largest since August 2014 when about 1,300 people landed on the Spanish coast in 24 hours. About 9,300 migrants have arrived in Spain by sea so far this year, while a further 3,500 have made it to the two Spanish enclaves in North Africa, Ceuta and Melilla. These numbers mean that Spain may be catching up on and even surpassing Greece in the number of arrivals, possibly by the end of 2017. Recently, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN refugee agency, warned that the country lacks the resources to handle the rising number of migrants. What seems to be a shift of migration routes to the so-called Western Mediterranean Route from Morocco into Spain this year, might be driven by the attempts of Italian authorities to curb Mediterranean crossings into the country. Just recently, in July, the Italian government announced plans to make charities that rescue migrants in the Mediterranean subject to a new code of conduct which many fear is likely to bring these NGOs under the control of the Libyan and Italian coast guards. Back in April, Italy reached an accord with southern Libyan tribes aimed at securing the country’s border and slowing the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean. Italy is under enormous pressure, with the numbers of people arriving by boats to the country outscore greatly those arriving in Spain and Greece, even combined. So far this year, Italy has seen more than 97,000 arrivals. Italy is also pressured by neighboring countries like Austria that have tightened border controls, thus making refugees and migrants unable to head North. Such lack of solidarity of Northern European countries with their neighbours in the South could force Italy into introducing new initiatives to reduce the number of migrants arriving, given the forthcoming elections in the country in less than a year. Ultimately, this could make the Western Mediterranean Route more popular and put a test on progressive measures such as the plan of the Madrid City Council’s to reduce the detention of migrants.