Spain prepares to welcome two incoming batches of refugees

While not typically a prime destination for refugees, Spain is preparing to receive its first two arrivals of refugees from Greece and Italy within the next month.

Sergio Perez/Reuters
Syrian refugee Osama Abdul Mohsen (left) in a Spanish class at a YMCA outside Madrid

While not typically a prime destination for refugees, Spain is preparing to receive its first two batches of arrivals of refugees from Greece and Italy within the next month.

As part of the European Union relocation program, the first group of 87 refugees will arrive from Greece around May 25, and 63 more will arrive in early June, according to Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz.

Already, 17 Eritrean refugees and one from Syria came to Spain from Italy in November, said Diaz, who says he expects 32 more to come soon.

Last year, Spain agreed to resettle 854 refugees from countries that border Syria, said Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria. Spain plans to accept 1,449 refugees over two years.

Despite Spain's recent efforts to welcome refugees, and its convenient location between the rest of Europe and Africa, the western Mediterranean country is often not seen as an ideal destination. A lack of opportunity and long waits for those seeking asylum contribute to this notion. In 2015, one million refugees arrived by sea to Europe, though only a few thousands came to Spain. Of the 1.3 asylum applications filed, Madrid received just 13,000.

"Even when the Syrian regime started gassing people, nobody wanted to ask for asylum. They didn't want to end up stuck [in Spain]," said human rights attorney Antonio Zapata. With little assistance from the Spanish government in starting life anew, refugees have been hesitant to go there. "We have professions. In other countries there is financial help for refugees, and there is work. In Spain, after six months, they dump you in the street," said Emin Ehmed, a Syrian engineer.

In 2014, only 130 Syrian refugees decided to resettle in Spain, while Germany, France, and other northern European nations have become home to much larger numbers. Spain rejected the European Commission's proposal that member states of the European Union welcome up to 20,000 Syrian refugees, many of whom reside in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey before moving on to Europe.

Under the Dublin Regulations, however, Spain must take in greater numbers of Syrian refugees. The Dublin Regulations stipulate that refugees apply for asylum in the first European country they step foot in. In 2014, Spain received over 5,000 requests for asylum from Syrian refugees in Switzerland, Germany, and Sweden, who had initially arrived in Europe via Spain.

In anticipation of the arrival of thousands of refugees, cities such as Madrid and Barcelona have planned a cross-country network for Spanish citizens to register to host refugees. However, Barcelona has been disappointed with the so far low numbers, while Spanish politicians blame the "complexity" of coordinating refugees. "There are things that could be done better. Things are moving slowly," acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, said of the United Nations refugee plan.

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