Spain: Migrants held in poor conditions

Asylum seekers and other migrants arriving by sea to Spanish shores are held in poor conditions and face obstacles in applying for asylum. They are held for days in dark, dank cells in police stations. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 7,847 people reached Spanish shores between January 1 and July 26, 2017, compared with 2,476 during the same period in 2016. Almost all adults and children traveling with a family member arriving to mainland Spain by boat are detained for up to 72 hours in police facilities for identification and processing.
Conditions in police facilities in Motril, Almería, and Málaga, which Human Rights Watch visited in May, are substandard, Human Rights Watch found. Detainees are locked inside at all times, and taken out only for medical checks, fingerprinting, interviews and, in Almería and Málaga, to go to the bathroom because there are none inside the cells. The Spanish Red Cross is present at all disembarkations to do basic medical screening and provide hygiene kits. Men are not provided toothbrushes on the grounds they may be used as weapons. While unaccompanied children are generally transferred to dedicated centers, children traveling with family members are detained in Motril and Almería, according to authorities.
Migrants detained told Human Rights Watch that they did not have individual meetings with a lawyer in police custody and were given little or no information about applying for asylum. In 2016 the country received just 1.3 percent of all new applications filed in the 28 EU member states and has a low per capita rate. According to the Defensor del Pueblo, Spain’s human rights institute, only 29 percent of those detained in these facilities in 2016 were actually deported that year. While a relatively short journey, the sea route in the western Mediterranean is deadly. The IOM estimates that 119 people have died at sea since the beginning of the year, with 49 people perishing in early July in a single incident.
Spain has alternatives to detention. People arriving by sea considered to belong to vulnerable groups, including families with children and pregnant women, are often taken directly to so-called humanitarian shelters. Many of those released from detention because they cannot be returned to their countries of origin are also placed in such shelters, where they may remain for up to three months. The directors of the Algeciras centers said the average length of stay was 15 to 20 days. National statistics show the average stay is around 24 days, including those who are deported as well as those who are released because they cannot be deported.
Given the particularly poor conditions in the Málaga central police station, people who enter there should not be detained, even for a brief period. All detainees should be provided basic hygiene products, including toothbrushes. They should receive clear, consistent information about their rights – including their right to apply for asylum – in individual interviews with lawyers. Judges should assess individual circumstances, including the likelihood of deportation orders being executed promptly, before sending anyone to immigration detention and order alternatives to detention as much as possible.

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