How host families are giving homeless refugees a helping hand in Barcelona

Since the pandemic began in March, the hostels of Barcelona have sat quiet and empty.

How host families are giving homeless refugees a helping hand in Barcelona
Photo: Five young men being helped by the BarcelonActua project.

But in the last few months, two of these have once again been filled to capacity, housing around 70 formerly homeless young men from around the world. 

The project, run by the BarcelonActua (BAC) foundation, aims to help social integration and fight homelessness for young immigrants in irregular situations.   

Life for asylum seekers and “ex-tutelados”– young men who arrived in Spain as unaccompanied minors and aged out of group homes – has been even more dire under COVID-19. Because of the lack of resources, many were already living on the streets or in group homes, which cut their capacities to follow social distance rules and health guidelines. 

During the nationwide lockdown, public places like libraries closed, and the people who would normally help couldn’t go out.

“When everyone is stuck at home, no one is going to help you,” said Bilal Elouahaji, 21, who has been staying at one of hostels, called “BAC stations”, for the last two months. “Honestly, it was very, very difficult.”

But the hostels are only the first step in the integration process: the final goal is to place the young men in host families, says Griselda Bereciartu, BarcelonActua’s Head of Immigration and Refuge. “Asylum seekers and ex-tutelados all have the same problem,” she told The Local. “They don’t have a social network.”

And without the paperwork to build a life here, they have no way to create one. Living with families is the best way to help them integrate. 

“As we place young men in host families, we free up space in the hostels to take in more who are living on the street,” she added. Plus, a lot of the processes set up to help asylum seekers and ex-tutelados depend on them having a stable address. Moving them into the hostels and host homes help them access more resources, Bereciartu explained. 

So far, four families have become hosts, with several more interested. If you’re based near Barcelona and you’re interested in learning more about becoming a host family, you can sign up for BarcelonActua’s next Zoom information session (in Spanish) taking place on October 28th here

By Sam Harrison in Barcelona

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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.