Spain transfers migrants from jail after suicide

Spanish authorities said Wednesday they had transferred migrants being controversially accommodated at a jail just two weeks after an Algerian man was found hanging in his cell in an apparent suicide contested by his brother.

Spain transfers migrants from jail after suicide
People gather for a demonstration outside the Archidona detention centre. Photo: AFP

The lawyer for the victim's family said some of the migrants held in the prison in Archidona near Malaga in southern Spain had been transferred to other centres around the country, while others were deported.

Amanda Romero added that among those evacuated were potential witnesses to the circumstances surrounding the death of Mohamed Bouderbala, 36, who was found hanging on December 29th.

In a statement, the interior ministry said the “572 migrants, all of them Algerian, who were in this Malaga centre since the end of November have been gradually transferred.”

It did not say where they were taken and a spokeswoman refused to comment further.

READ MORE: Police brutality? Calls for probe into migrant death in Spain

The use of the new jail as a so-called CIE, a centre where migrants are held pending asylum claims or deportation after they arrive in Spain, drew sharp criticism by rights groups.

Spanish law states that CIEs must not “be penitentiary in nature.”   

But the interior ministry said it had decided to use the jail due to a lack of space at other detention centres, as the number of migrant arrivals in Spain more than doubled last year on 2016, setting a new record at around

“The interior ministry has always preferred this solution to building temporary camps, as has been done in other countries, which don't guarantee the minimum worthy living conditions,” it said.

Romero said she thought the evacuation had been enacted in direct response to the controversy caused by the death of Bouderbala, who according to an autopsy hanged himself with a sheet.

His brother Ahmed told reporters last week he spoke to Mohamed the morning before he was found dead, and that he was not suicidal.    

But a judge dropped a probe into the death just a few days after the incident, prompting Romero to question “the speed” in which the case was closed and appealing the decision.

On Wednesday, she said she did not as yet know whether potential witnesses inside the centre, who have “versions that could contradict official ones,” were sent back to Algeria or remained in Spain in other centres.


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.