Bomb squad called in after grenade thrown at migrant children’s centre in Madrid

A residential centre housing immigrant minors was evacuated Wednesday after Madrid police found a hand-grenade in the grounds, just weeks after the far-right Vox vilified the venue during its election campaign.

Bomb squad called in after grenade thrown at migrant children's centre in Madrid
The centre in Madrid's Hortaleza district was the focus of Vox during the election campaign.Photo: Comunidad de Madrid

“A practice grenade containing a reduced explosive charge” was found in the morning within the grounds of the reception centre, a police spokesman told AFP, saying it was inside a plastic bag.   

“It looks like it might have been thrown in from outside,” he said, indicating the centre was immediately evacuated and anti-explosive experts brought in to detonate the grenade in a controlled explosion.

Located in the sprawling northeastern Hortaleza neighbourhood, the centre is home to scores of youngsters, most of them immigrants, with locals expressing concerns about it being overcrowded.

Last month, the centre hit the headlines during a televised election debate watched by millions when Vox leader Santiago Abascal claimed its presence had allegedly caused an increase in crime in the neighbourhood, where he himself lives.

Anti-immigrant rhetoric, particularly targeting minors, has been a key part of Vox's approach, with the party accused of falsifying and manipulating data to try to establish a supposed cause-and-effect relationship between illegal immigration and urban delinquency.

Shortly afterwards, Spain's human rights czar Francisco Fernandez Marugan issued a stern rebuke to those using “xenophobic and racist messages” to link migrant youths with crime, warning such rhetoric could be used to “justify acts of violence against them”.

“These children do not need to suffer any more violence; they have already been through enough in their lives,” tweeted Ione Belarra of the radical leftwing Podemos.

“Hatred spreads and you cannot control it. We will guarantee rights and fight against racism.”

Although November's election was won by the ruling Socialists, Vox scored huge gains, becoming Spain's third largest party. 

The Socialists and Podemos have agreed in principle to form a coalition government, but they need backing from other factions to pass an investiture vote — support which has yet to materialise.

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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.