MADRID, June 14 ― Spain's new Socialist government has offered to take in the 629 migrants aboard the Aquarius rescue ship that was stranded in the Mediterranean after Italy and Malta refused to let it dock.
It is unclear if the gesture marks a change in policy in Madrid under new Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez or whether it will have a “pull effect” that draws more migrants to Spain.
Here are some key facts about migrant arrivals in Spain:
Arrivals by sea double
Since the start of the year, over 9,300 migrants reached Spain's shores by sea, more than double the figure for the same period last year, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
The number of migrants who died while trying to reach Spain by sea has more than quadrupled to 244 as of June 10 from 61 last year during the same period.
Most migrants travel in packed boats from Morocco's northern shore to Spain's southern coast, a distance of over 100 kilometres (60 miles) depending on the route.
Spain was the third most popular destination for migrants in the European Union last year after Italy and Greece.
What happens after they arrive?
After passing through a police station to be identified, migrants are usually taken to one of seven longer-term immigration detention centres where they wait for up to 60 days for their fate to be decided.
Some 8,800 people passed through these centres last year, according to official figures. Human rights Watch and other rights groups complain that migrants are held in poor conditions in these centres and face obstacles in applying for asylum.
“A lot of people are released into the streets after 72 hours (at a police station), because currently there are no more places in the centres,” Carlos Arce, migration coordinator at the Human Rights Association of Andalusia (APDHA), told AFP.
These migrants are left to fend for themselves, without any follow-up or help from the government, he added.
For those who manage to formally seek asylum, the system is saturated.
Is there a 'siren call' risk?
The government's decision to take in the migrants from the Aquarius, operated by SOS Mediterranee, has been generally well received in Spain, with dozens of cities and regions offering to give them shelter.
But the conservative Popular Party which ran Spain for six years, until they were ousted in a no-confidence vote on June 1, quickly sounded the alarm that the move would act as a “siren call” for more migrants.
While the number of migrants arriving in Spain by sea has doubled, in Italy arrivals by sea have dropped by 73 per cent over the same period last year to 14,330 as of June 10, according to IOM figures.
Change in policy?
Sanchez cited “humanitarian reasons” for agreeing to accept the migrants from the Aquarius ship. The gesture contrasted with the policy under his conservative predecessor Mariano Rajoy whose government was often accused of only reluctantly accepting migrants.
“Spain is far from respecting the quota of migrants that has been assigned each country” by the European Commission, Spanish foreign Minister Josep Borrell said Wednesday.
The country pledged to receive 9,323 refugees who arrived in Greece and Italy but as of May 31 it had only welcomed 1,359, according to the Commission. ― AFP