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HEALTH

Spain restores free healthcare for illegal migrants

Spain's parliament approved Thursday a draft law tabled by the country's new Socialist government which restores free healthcare for undocumented migrants, a right removed in 2012 by the former conservative administration.

Spain restores free healthcare for illegal migrants
A boy holds up his drawing at a migrant housing project in San Sebastian. Photo: AFP

While the Socialists have a minority of just 84 seats in the 350-seat assembly, the measure introduced by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez shortly after he came to power in June passed with 177 votes in favour and 133 against.   

It grants undocumented migrants access to public health “under the same conditions as people who have Spanish nationality.”   

Sanchez's conservative predecessor Mariano Rajoy withdrew the right to public healthcare for undocumented migrants in 2012 as part of a programme of spending cuts as Spain grappled with a financial crisis.

Several regional governments responded by giving undocumented migrants access to healthcare and Rajoy's government in 2015 reinstated access to emergency healthcare.

“Health does not know borders, identity papers, or work permits,” Health Minister Carmen Monton told lawmakers before the measure was voted on.   

Sanchez, who came to power after ousting Rajoy in a no-confidence vote, made global headlines in June by offering to take in a rescue ship that was drifting in the Mediterranean sea with 629 migrants on board. Italy and Malta had refused to let it dock.

READ MORE: Spain overtakes Italy as sea route destination for migrants

The law resorting healthcare for undocumented migrants was approved with the support of the coalition of far-left and smaller regional parties which backed the Socialists in their no-confidence vote against Rajoy.

Conservative lawmaker Teresa Angulo accused the government of “opening wide the doors of Spain to health tourism”.   

Parliament also passed a law creating over 300 public jobs aimed at processing migrants and asylum seekers.   

Spain has become the main entry point for migrants arriving in Europe, after Italy and Greece. Over 33,000 migrants have arrived in Spain by sea and land so far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration.

READ ALSO: Madrid counts 10,000 unaccompanied minor migrants on Spanish soil

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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