Spain fails to comply with the quotas set for the resettlement of refugees. Since 2010, when the national resettlement program was launched, successive Executives have committed to bringing and hosting 5,284 refugees, but only 3,352 people have benefited from this initiative. 37% of the quotas committed have not been covered, according to data provided by the Secretary of State for Migration.
The numbers reflect not only that the number of people who arrive each year is below the commitment made, but also how long it takes them to arrive. It is common for the procedure, complex and bureaucratic, to end up taking two years. The 2020 and 2021 exercises have been especially complicated due to health restrictions.
Resettlement is a process by which States welcome, protect and facilitate the transfer of refugees who have fled their country of origin and who are in a third country that has given them temporary asylum. The goal is to offer them a lasting solution because where they live, usually in refugee camps, they are either in grave danger or have needs that cannot be met.
None of the three ministries involved in the resettlement program (Interior, Migration and Foreign Affairs) specifies the reasons why this tool has limited performance. The UN Agency for Refugees (Acnur), which makes the first identification and selection of the most vulnerable profiles to resettle refugees around the world, points out some keys. “Sometimes the delay can be caused by complications in the exit permits from the first country of asylum, refugees who end up withdrawing from the process due to changes in their personal circumstances, for medical reasons, mobility limitations due to the pandemic or due to lack of resources for reception”, explains a spokeswoman.
Andrea Romano, professor of Constitutional Law and expert in international protection, places Spain among the European countries that have least developed their resettlement policy. Romano sees a problem of little experience in the Spanish case. “Unlike, for example, in the Nordic countries, in Spain it is a relatively recent instrument and there may be a lack of experience, human resources and knowledge on how to speed up its execution,” he explains.
The Ministry of Migration trusts that, beyond the national reception system, the municipalities participate in the resettlement commitments with their local networks. This approach, department sources suggest, seeks to deal with the consequences of demographic decline in many areas of the country.
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Resettlement programs are present on all continents, and the US, Australia and Canada are countries recognized for their commitment in this area. In theory, resettlement is a formula that wants to be reinforced, since it is one of the few legal ways for those fleeing persecution not only to migrate safely, but also to find more facilities for their inclusion in the host society. The EU, despite what the Commission proclaims, does not stand out for its levels of commitment and compliance. Only 13 countries have national programs.
UNHCR estimates that 1.47 million refugees are in need of resettlement. “But the number of places that the States offer annually is extremely limited,” maintains its spokesman.
Spain, following its 2009 asylum law, established the mechanism that governs the national resettlement program. The Council of Ministers establishes each year the quota that the reception system can assume and a procedure is launched in which three ministries, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) participate. Although it does not meet its own quotas, Spain has been increasing its commitment over the years, and since 2018 its offer is up to 1,200 places per year. Most of the refugees who arrive in Spain thanks to these programs come from camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. They tend to be, above all, Syrians. But there are also Iranians, Eritreans, Ethiopians or Sudanese.
85,000 Afghans will need protection in five years
Resettlement is not the same as relocation, like the one that failed miserably in Europe after the so-called refugee crisis that pushed Italy and Greece to the brink in 2015. Relocation is a transfer of asylum seekers from an EU state to another, once they have already reached European soil by their own means. Resettlement, in the case of Europe, consists of offering a lasting welcome to refugees who are temporarily in a third, non-European country.
The crisis in Afghanistan will pose a new resettlement challenge for the world, and especially for the EU. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, declared in early October that 85,000 people will need protection under resettlement programs in the next five years, and that the EU should take in half. Spain, after evacuating 1,900 Afghans since August, has assumed a new quota and is expected to shelter another 600.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.