Council of Europe slams Spain for denying healthcare to illegal immigrants

Organization's Committee on Social Rights concerned about general slide on basic protection

The economic crisis has undermined social protection in Spain. The Council of Europe, which oversees respect for human rights in 47 countries on the continent, on Wednesday expressed concern over "regressive legislative developments concerning access to health care by foreigners illegally present in the country."

The conclusion is part of a wide-reaching report by the European Committee on Social Rights that examines whether national laws conform to the European Social Charter.

The 2013 conclusions, released on Wednesday, found that Spain was one of several countries that had regressed on social rights compared with earlier periods. Other states where healthcare, social welfare and occupational safety have been curtailed included Austria, France, Finland, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Lithuania and Latvia.

Spain scored negatively on six out of 17 points that the committee investigated, including the decision to deny free healthcare to foreigners living illegally in the country, a general rule introduced by the Popular Party government of Mariano Rajoy with certain exceptions (minors, pregnant women and anyone with an infectious disease).

The countries found to have violated the charter the most were Albania, Georgia, Moldavia and Ukraine

"The economic crisis cannot serve as a pretext for a restriction or denial of access to health care that affects the very substance of the right of access to health care," the Council of Europe committee argues, noting that states have the obligation to provide assistance to citizens regardless of their residency status.

“They cannot be excluded. Both the central government and the regional authorities have the obligation to respect this criterium by the Council of Europe," said Luis Quesada, president of the European Committee on Social Rights, which conducts periodic surveys of states' compliance with the Social Charter.

The countries found to have violated the charter the most were Albania, Georgia, Moldavia and Ukraine, followed by two EU member states, Romania and Greece. “Figures have worsened considerably. It's a source of great concern to us. Social rights must be protected," adds Colm O’Cinneide, head of the 2013 report.

Besides restrictions on healthcare for undocumented migrants, the committee objected to other measures implemented by Spain, such as the minimum level of sickness benefit, which is "manifestly inadequate," or the basic subsidy paid to people without a minimum income: "In all autonomous communities and municipalities, except for the Basque country and Navarra communities, the level of social assistance paid to a single person is manifestly inadequate on the basis that the minimum assistance that can be obtained falls below the poverty threshold."

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