Statewatch News online: Spain: Migrant lock-in evicted by police

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Migrant lock-in evicted by police

An action by around 1,500 undocumented migrant workers and participants from civil society, who staged a peaceful lock-in in Barcelona Cathedral on the evening of Saturday 5 June 2004 after a demonstration demanding their regularisation, was ended by a police raid. The raid was carried out by the Guardia Urbana (Barcelona municipal police) and Policia Nacional riot police in the early morning, after they had cordoned off the premises at 4 a.m. and invited the occupants to leave. Although the protestors had stated that they would leave the church by 9 a.m., and the parish priest had authorised the action, the police entered the Cathedral to forcefully evict the participants after a long night of negotiations and threats by high ranking officials from the Generalitat (Barcelona's town council), according to a press statement issued following the eviction by the Asamblea por la Regularización sin Condiciones (ARC, Assembly for Unconditional Regularisation). Representatives of the Spanish and Catalan regional government, as well as from the UGT and CCOO trade unions, also tried to convince the demonstrators to leave the church. The officials reportedly threatened protestors with being arrested and tried if they did not leave the premises.

The protest was aimed at establishing a dialogue with the national government over seven claims that its participants considered "urgent" and a "priority": these include unconditional regularisation of migrant workers; that nobody should lose their rights as a result of the [public] administration's inefficiency [see below]; the annulling of expulsion orders that have not been executed, and putting an end to expulsions; putting an end to police harassment; closing detention centres; derogating the Ley de Extranjería (Spain's immigration law); and a substantial change in Spain's migration policy. Demonstrators who went outside the Cathedral to support the migrants during the eviction were allegedly charged and tear-gassed by police, and police charged and dispersed a later demonstration outside a second church (Iglesia del Pi) where another simultaneous lock-in by around 200 people was held, which ended before 9 a.m. on Sunday morning without intervention by the police. The ARC press statement alleges that some of the people who staged the lock-in were injured as they were cleared by police and several migrants were taken to La Verneda detention centre in Barcelona. These allegations were confirmed by subsequent reports in Barcelona newspaper La Vanguardia indicating that 25 participants in the lock-in were detained and proceedings to issue them with expulsion orders are under way. ARC spokesman Enrique Mosquera described the opening of expulsion proceedings against these migrants as "atrocious", claiming that the police had "assured that the migrants would not be identified, and nor would they have any problems relating to the immigration law".

Joan Rangel, the government envoy in Cataunya, said that "Those asking for papers for everyone are tricking people. Neither Spain nor any country in the EU would ever approve this policy", claiming that migrants are being "manipulated and used" by "certain organisations", and that "while migration should never be a public order concern, some people provoke this kind of situation and then have the shamelessness to condemn it". Zapatero, the Spanish PM, ruled out the possibility of "papers for all", or even for an extraordinary regularisation, arguing that the issue of migration needs to be organised better through "legal immigration", whereas an extraordinary regularisation may encourage an increase in illegal entries in the future. Reports in El País newspaper indicate that a backlog in administrative decisions is affecting 374,749 migrants, mainly concerning the renewal of their work and residence permits, which are experiencing delays of up to nine months. This situation is particularly evident in Barcelona, where decisions on the situation of 45,860 (on 28 April 2004) migrants are unresolved. This situation places many migrants who were in a regular situation in the past, to suffer a series of difficulties as result of their inability to submit valid documents in a variety of fields, such as opening bank accounts, obtaining services from the health and social services, or travelling to their countries of origin during holidays.

Similar actions by migrants who staged lock-ins in ten churches in Barcelona in January 2001, which lasted up to 47 days, resulted in the Partido Popular opening an extraordinary regularisation process, resulting in around 14,000 migrants in the province of Barcelona obtaining residence permits, although the majority of applications were denied. Ecuadorians also locked themselves up in churches in early 2001, after the PP government responded to the death of twelve "illegal" Ecuadorian migrant workers who died in a van which was run over by a train, as they travelled down a secondary road to avoid police road-checks, by promising a crackdown on employers who employed "illegal" migrants, thus making large numbers unemployable (see Statewatch vol. 11 no. 1). A two-month lock-in by migrants calling for their regularisation in Pablo de Olavide university in Seville (Andalusia) which started in June 2002, ended in a police raid to evict the occupants several of whom were subsequently expelled (see Statewatch vol. 12 no. 5, and Statewatch news online, August 2002).

Sources: El País 5-8.6.2004; La Vanguardia, 8.6.2004; Press statement, Asamblea por la Regularización Sin Condiciones, 6.6.2004; Statewatch vols. 11 no. 1 & vol. 12 no. 5; Statewatch news online, August 2002.

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