Call for Spain to do more for Syrian refugees in ‘prison city’

Many try to reach Europe via highly policed Spanish territory of Melilla in north Africa

A group of politicians has decried the situation of Syrian refugees who are in or are attempting to reach the Spanish enclave of Melilla in north Africa, describing it as "a prison city".

Many Syrians attempt to reach Europe via Melilla, which is situated between Morocco and the Mediterranean Sea. If they enter Melilla they are technically in Spanish territory, but the border is being tightly controlled by police on both sides.

Several senior members of Podemos, the anti-austerity party with close links to Greece's Syriza, visited the city this week and called on the Spanish government to do more to help Syrians enter with a visa and, in particular, to reunite families separated by the Moroccan border.

"Now that Hungary's European border has become more difficult to get across, [this route] is being used more and there aren't the resources or the political will to tackle it," said Miguel Urbán, a member of the European Parliament who was part of the delegation.


He said Syrians were travelling to Morocco via Algeria and attempting to cross the border at Melilla by passing themselves off as Moroccans, using forged passports.

Above capacity

Mr Urbán visited Melilla’s Immigrant Temporary Stay Centre (CETI), which houses refugees and migrants while their legal status is clarified. He said it had at least 1,700 people, well above its capacity of 500.

“The CETI isn’t adapted for children and there are 500 children there. There’s one psychologist, one lawyer and one doctor for 1,700 people. It’s completely overflowing; it shows a total lack of foresight and resources.”

Teresa Rodríguez, a Podemos deputy in the Andalusia regional parliament who also made the trip, told reporters that for many Syrians in the CETI, Melilla "is a prison city which they can't get out of" because of lengthy waits for relatives or for their legal situation to be resolved.

Emergency visas

Podemos called on the Spanish government to issue emergency visas to Syrians from its consulate in


, the nearest Moroccan city to Melilla. The party also said efforts should be made to reunite families who had been separated because some members were allowed to enter Melilla while others were not.

Melilla authorities hit back, pointing to their efforts in dealing with migrants – mainly sub-Saharan Africans – trying to enter from Morocco in recent years. "We are European champions at this: nobody can give us any lessons at all when it comes to this," said Melilla's mayor, Juan José Imbroda, of the Popular Party. Mr Imbroda accused Podemos of using the refugee situation as a "photo opportunity". He said Spain "has to defend Melilla and its borders and impose order".

Last month the Spanish government agreed with the European Commission to receive nearly 15,000 refugees, the third highest number, after Germany and France.

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain