Refugees welcome? Police probe racist attacks on migrant youth centers in Catalonia

Police in Spain were Wednesday investigating an attack with "racist connotations" against a migrants' youth centre near Barcelona, the second such attack in the past week in the northeastern region of Catalonia.

Refugees welcome? Police probe racist attacks on migrant youth centers in Catalonia
The migrant youths had been staying in the Cal Ganxo residence in Castelldefels. Photo:

A group of 25 people with their faces masked “ransacked” the centre in the coastal town of Castelldefels south of Barcelona in the early hours of Sunday and “tried to attack teachers and minors”, the regional government of Catalonia said in a statement.

Three people were injured — two teachers and a minor who suffered an anxiety attack, the statement added.

Catalan regional police have questioned the injured and witnesses but have not arrested anyone so far, a spokesman for the police force told AFP.   

Castelldefels city hall downplayed the incident, calling it a fight between migrants from the centre and locals youths, but the Catalan regional government suspect the attack was racially motivated.


“We are talking about a very serious incident which has a racist connotation… this is not a simple fight between youths,” said the regional social affairs minister who is responsible for immigration, Chakir El Homrani.   

The attackers shouted xenophobic words during the attack, and repeated these words and threw stones during a rally outside the centre the following day, according to his ministry.

A man with a machete burst into another youth centre for migrants in Canet de Mar, north of Barcelona, on March 6th and threatened its occupants but left without injuring anyone.

The attacks come amid a surge in the arrival of unaccompanied migrants, mostly from Morocco.

The number of unaccompanied migrants in Catalonia jumped from 684 in 2016 to 3,742 in 2018. 

Spain has become the main entry point for migrants fleeing Africa to seek a better life in Europe, overtaking Italy and Greece.   

Far-right groups routinely take to social media to highlight crimes allegedly committed by migrant minors, and accuse the mainstream media of downplaying crimes carried out by foreigners.

READ MORE: Illegal workers in southern Spain: unwanted but indispensable

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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.