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IMMIGRATION

Dozens of people drown as boat capsizes trying to reach Spain

At least 44 migrants, including women and infants, drowned this week off Morocco's coast as they tried to reach Spain, migrant aid agency Caminando Fronteras has said.

Safety jackets on a boat
Safety jackets on a boat. Photo: Ricardo GARCIA VILANOVA / AFP

“Tragedy. At least 44 victims drowned off the coast of Tarfaya (southern Morocco),” the aid agency’s Helena Maleno tweeted on Saturday.

They were among 61 migrants who boarded a boat heading for Spain’s Canary Islands, around 100 kilometres (62 miles) away from Tarfaya.

A total of 16 women and seven babies were among those on board, Maleno said.

“The bodies of three women and two babies are now at the morgue of Laayoune,” the main city in the disputed Western Sahara territory. The rest are still missing.

The North African kingdom of Morocco is a key transit point on routes taken by migrants hoping for better lives on European shores.

According to the Spanish interior ministry, more than 40,000 migrants arrived in the country by sea in 2021.

The European Union said this week it wanted to bolster cooperation with Morocco to stem the flow of illegal migrants entering the bloc, amid a sharp jump in attempts to reach the Canary Islands — a gateway to the EU.

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IMMIGRATION

Amnesty International slams Spain’s ‘double standards’ on immigration

Human rights NGO Amnesty International has criticised Spain’s “double standards” vis-a-vis refugees, highlighting the contrast between its open arms policy to Ukrainian refugees and the “brutality” with which it treats African migrants in Ceuta and Melilla.

Amnesty International slams Spain's 'double standards' on immigration

Amnesty International (AI) has criticised Spain for using “double standards” when it comes to the situation of refugees. 

The Spanish branch of the human rights group, which made the comments coinciding with the release of AI’s global 2021/2022 report, argues that on the one hand the Spanish government is making efforts to provide a quick response to those escaping conflict in Ukraine or Afghanistan but by contrast uses excessive violence or persecution against African migrants crossing into Spain. 

“We can’t one day welcome with open arms those who escape war, and the next day beat and use extreme brutality against those who jump the fence in Melilla,” said the director of Amnesty International Spain Esteban Beltrán.

“It’s incoherent to demand a coordinated and open response for refugees in the European Union, and then carry out quick returns, even of minors, and justify everything based immigration control. 

READ ALSO: Why are Ceuta and Melilla Spanish?

“Spanish authorities must decide whether they want to comply with international law at their borders, or if they’re only going to do so when it is of interest to them,” Beltrán concluded.

Amnesty International’s 2021/2022 report explains in its section on Spain how after the Taliban took power in Afghanistan in 2021, the Spanish government evacuated 2,026 people and for the first time allowed people of Afghan nationality to apply for asylum in the Embassy of Spain in Pakistan.

As a further example of Spain’s double standards, the report points out the “overcrowding and precariousness” in migrant centres in the Canary Islands, referring to the poor conditions as “avoidable” and down to “poor management”.

Asylum-seekers in Spain have allegedly not been given access to adequate information about their rights, and Spanish authorities have not guaranteed their timely registration or the processing of their applications.

The human rights group with its headquarters in London also accuses Spain of “illegally and collectively” returning migrants to Morocco, including unaccompanied migrants.

READ ALSO: What happens to the thousands of undocumented migrants after they arrive in Spain?

In 2021, a total of 22,200 people arrived by sea to the Atlantic archipelago and at least 955 of them, including approximately 80 minors, drowned before they could reach Spanish shores.

The report, which analyses the human rights situation in 154 countries, also speaks negatively of the impunity displayed at Spanish nursing homes during the Covid-19 pandemic, when hundreds of infected elderly people were not properly cared for or were left to die alone.

Amnesty International also stresses there’s been “another pandemic” in Spain in the sense of the lack of adequate access to healthcare for people with chronic diseases, the elderly, and people with mental health problems whilst Covid-19 has dominated health personnel’s workload.

Freedom of expression and the right to protest also continues to be threatened in the Spanish state according to the annual report, citing examples such as the absence of reform of the so-called gag law and the application of Spain’s Criminal Code in cases such as the conviction and imprisonment of rapper Pablo Hasel.

The “excessive” use of force by Spanish law enforcement officers in order to break up demonstrations, such as the inappropriate use of foam balls, continues to be denounced by Amnesty International.

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