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IMMIGRATION

Doctors slam health care cuts for immigrants

A medical aid group on Wednesday urged Spain to scrap a "dangerous" austerity reform that has deprived hundreds of thousands of foreigners of access to free health care, saying it was putting lives at risk.

Doctors slam health care cuts for immigrants
Top doctors have described application of the new law as "absolute chaos" and cited 700 cases of people being denied their legal rights. Photo: JOSEP LAGO/AFP

Under a controversial law which came into effect on September 1st last year, illegal immigrants are denied treatment at public hospitals and health care centres in Spain unless they are under 18, pregnant, or in case of accidents.

"We ask lawmakers to be sensitive to the suffering this law is causing and take the necessary steps to return to the previous situation, when health care was guaranteed to all people who live in Spain," said Alvaro Gonzalez, head of Doctors of the World in Spain.

"From a rights perspective, it is unfair, from an economic perspective, it is ineffective, from the point of view of public health, it is dangerous," he added after meeting with lawmakers to discuss the impact of the law.

Many patients with chronic diseases like HIV and cancer who had lost their access to health care were abandoning treatment while people who had received organ transplants had stopped taking anti-rejection drugs, the aid group said in a report.

It has documented over 700 cases where health care services should still have been provided, such as in accidents or for pregnant women, but which were denied to people.

"These over 700 cases demonstrate the absolute chaos of the application of this law, with a significant deterioration in medical care," said Gonzalez.

Restricting access to health care to illegal immigrants would lead to an increase in spending in the medium term because it will cause the number of people needing emergency treatment to soar, he added.

Many of the 873,000 people who the government has recognized as having lost their access to health care because of the reform had lived legally in the country before they became unemployed and lost their work permits, the aid group said in its report.

"After all these years of contributing to the state budget they have lost one of the most basic rights, to health care," it said.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative government has vowed to find €150 billion ($195 billion) in savings between 2012 and 2014 through a painful austerity programme that has sparked mass demonstrations.

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POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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