Spain: More than 1,700 people lost their lives trying to reach Spain in 2020, the highest figure ever recorded


The Andalusian Association for Human Rights criticises the “vast resources” given to preventing migration, in contrast with the “absolute lack of investment in reception.” There was a 756% increase in arrivals in the Canary Islands in 2020.

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Press release originally published by Asocicación Pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía on 22 March 2021, translation by Statewatch. Full report available here (link to pdf).

Andalusia, 22 March 2021. On the day after the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Andalusian Association for Human Rights (APDHA) has published its report Human Rights at the Southern Border 2021, in which it denounces the fact that, according to the organisation’s annual analysis, 1,717 people have lost their lives trying to reach Spain over the last year, the highest figure ever recorded.

“This is the result of criminal migration policies for which the European Union and the government of Spain are both responsible,” says the organisation, that recorded a 29% increase in the number of people who tried to reach safety by crossing our borders in 2020, compared to 2019.

The association once again puts into sharp relief the volatility of the plans designed by the Spanish government to try to reduce the arrival of migrant persons, with enormous consequences in terms of the cost in human lives. The report denounces the migration policies developed by the Spanish government and the EU, whose sole objective is to control migrants and refuse them entry at the southern border.

For APDHA, migration is inherent in the history of humanity and nowadays its roots lie in the great fractures that criss-cross the globe. Fractures between the global north and global south, fractures provoked by the climate emergency, unending wars, the exhaustion of natural resources by the countries of the global north and, this year, the fracture caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. “To try to contain migrations through repression, militarisation and criminalisation, as Spain and the EU repeatedly try to do, is a plan that is condemned to failure,” says APDHA.

All the resources directed towards migration policies focus exclusively on avoiding the arrival, or attempting to expel, people who risk their lives trying to reach Spanish territory via the southern border, “despite the fact that, curiously, they make up just 4.3% of the total of people who enter Spain,” explains the report.

The report details that these “vast resources” come from the development of the Integrated External Surveillance System (Sistema Integrado de Vigilancia Exterior, SIVE), whose cost soars above €300 million euros, the maintenance of detention centres (Centros de Internamiento para Extranjeros, CIE, and Centros de Atención Temporal de Extranjeros, CATE) spread across Andalusia, the detention centres in Ceuta and Melilla (Centros de Estancia Temporal de Inmigrantes, CETI) and the fences in both cities that, in the words of APDHA, constitute a “bottomless pit for the resources of the state.” Furthermore, the deployment of patrols or of Frontex and the “multi-million purchase of improperly-conditioned cooperation with third countries (Morocco, Mauritania, Mali, Sudan, Chad, Guinea, Gambia, Ivory Coast and Senegal) so that they serve as buffer states and border guards for the EU.” APDHA condemns the fact that all this comes at “an incalculable price of human rights violations in which the Spanish government is complicit.”

The reports analyses how, although the pandemic initially put the brakes on migratory flows, it then spurred the flight of thousands of young people from the Sahel, Sahara, Morocco and Algeria. It can be seen, says the report, how workers in the tourism, fisheries and precarious sectors have been left with no resources due to anti-COVID measures, instead choosing to try to cross the Atlantic or to facilitate those journeys with their vessels.

The report details a 756% increase in arrivals in the Canary Islands in 2020, “and the response of the government has been repressive and anti-humanitarian: thousands of people locked up in inhuman conditions, with an absolute lack of guarantees with regard to human rights. Thousands of people sleeping in the open air and on the floor in ports, insufficient legal assistance, mothers separated from their children, endless quarantines, unsanitary conditions, overcrowding…” showing the utter lack of resources provided by the government to enable a dignified welcome, just as happened in 2018 on the coasts of Cadiz. 

The report regrets that “the government has decided to abandon projects for safe and legal routes, as were set out in the coalition agreement, and has instead opted for repression, the violation of human rights and the criminalisation of migrant persons, just as the previous governments of the Partido Popular did.”

APDHA argues that, to address the global displacement of persons democratically and humanely, policies for dignified reception and the establishment of safe and legal routes are essential and are the only way to avoid thousands of people losing their lives to find a worthy future. The organisation also recalls the vital importance of continuing to denounce human rights violations against people trying to migrate, from their place of origin, along their journey, until their arrival at the gates of Europe. The organisation has thus launched a crowdfunding project to finance next year’s report on Human Rights at the Southern Border, a work that they have undertaken for 20 years and which includes an analysis of migratory movements, policies and, amongst many other things, a calculation of the number of people who have died or disappeared in their search for a better life.

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