At least 160,000 people flooded the streets of Barcelona on Saturday to urge the Spanish government to fulfill its promise to take in refugees from Syria and other war zones. Under an agreement adopted 18 months ago by EU states, Spain should have taken in 17,000 people fleeing conflict, but so far has accepted just over 700.
Representatives from all political parties, except the conservative Popular Party, along with labor unions, civic organizations, as well as journalists and leading figures from the arts, took part in the march, as well as Barcelona’s mayor, Ada Colau. The Archbishop of Barcelona, Joan Josep Omella, released a statement lending his support.
“Barcelona is once again not just the capital of Catalonia, but of solidarity, commitment and the defense of human rights and peace,” said Colau.
The people have spoken – until now the politicians have only done so to justify themselves Òscar Camps, Proactiva Open Arms
“Enough excuses, let’s take them in now,” read a banner carried by a group of refugees who led the march.
“The people have spoken today, until now the politicians have only done so to justify themselves,” said Òscar Camps, the head of Proactiva Open Arms, a Barcelona-based NGO that helps rescue migrants at sea.
The organizers said up to 300,000 took part in the march, which ended on Barcelona’s seafront. “This was the biggest demonstration in Europe in support of refugees,” said Rubén Wagensberg, one of the organizers, pointing out that more than 100 people had disappeared in the Mediterranean during the course of the march.
At least 5,000 people are known to have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean last year, while 215 have disappeared so far this year.
Wagensberg called on the European Union to “sanction states that do not meet their commitments to take in refugees, like Spain. According to the European Commission’s latest data, at the beginning of February, EU members states had shared out just 7% of the 160,000 asylum requests made from Italy and Greece.
The organizers of the march met with Carles Puigdemont, Catalonia’s regional premier on Saturday to call for a “grand social pact” to support taking in refugees.
But Wagensberg said despite “widespread consensus” in Catalonia, the region’s government and local councils “still have a lot of work to do” to make Catalonia “a truly welcoming place” for refugees.
English version by Nick Lyne.