Spain rejects EU petition to extend holding periods for illegal immigrants

Current 60-day limit will not be expanded to six months or more, says secretary of state for security

J. J. Gálvez

For now at least, Spain is ignoring a petition by Brussels to increase the period that illegal immigrants can be held at detention centers. The current 60-day holding time will not be changed to six months – extendable to 18 months – at any of the country’s centers, said José Antonio Nieto, the secretary of state for security, on Tuesday.

Spanish State Secretary for Security José Antonio Nieto.
Spanish State Secretary for Security José Antonio Nieto.Uly Martin

“This says a lot about how we feel people arriving in our country should be treated,” said Nieto.

The statement came shortly after the European Union announced plans to accelerate migrant returns. According to Eurostat, the European statistics bureau, the EU only returns 36% of migrants with deportation orders due to loopholes and inefficiencies in the system.

Europe continues to look at the short term, obsessing about making its borders impenetrable

 Estrella Galán, secretary general of the Spanish Commission for Refugees (CEAR)

On Thursday of last week, the Commission presented a document with new measures and recommendations. The text chided member states for not incorporating in their own legislation the maximum periods allowed by the EU return directive.

“In some countries, the legal periods are far below what the European directive allows. They are insufficient to complete the readmission processes of those migrants,” said EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos on Thursday.

The report did not go down well in Madrid, where government sources said they had not been previously informed of its content.

“The recommendation from Brussels defends adjusting national legislation to the maximum initial internment period of six months, extendable to 18 months. In our country, legislation contemplates a maximum of 60 days, one of the lowest in the entire EU,” said Nieto on Tuesday.

A pro-immigrant march in Madrid in late February.
A pro-immigrant march in Madrid in late February.EFE

Human rights groups in Spain have criticized Brussels’ tougher stance on immigration.

“Europe continues to make the mistake of looking at the short term and obsessing about making its borders impenetrable. We lament Brussels’ proposal, which is one more step towards the construction of Europe as a fortress,” said Estrella Galán, secretary general of the Spanish Commission for Refugees (CEAR). “This measure is not so far from Trump’s initiatives on the other side of the Atlantic, which we like to criticize so much.”

Ageing facilities

Spain has seven holding centers, known by their Spanish acronym CIE. In 2015, 6,930 undocumented migrants were detained there while awaiting their deportation orders, but 52% were ultimately released after the legal period expired.

Carmen Echeverría of Karibu, a support group for African migrants at Madrid’s CIE, says that “90% of the people we visited in 2016 have been released.”

Many groups have been demanding that CIE holding centers be shut down altogether

Many non-profit groups as well as the leftist party Podemos have been demanding that these centers be shut down altogether, claiming they are just prisons going by another name, but without the legal framework, financial resources or infrastructure of actual penitentiaries.

“The CIEs have become old centers,” admitted Nieto on Tuesday. “There are failures and we need to address them. We need adequate centers where interns are properly dealt with, and which will serve the purpose for which they were created.”

The Spanish National Police, he added, is currently drafting a plan to improve this network of facilities.

By comparison, France has a maximum holding period of 45 days. In Italy, the official limit is three months, although in practice migrants are often held for much longer than that. In Belgium, there is a two-month period but it can be increased to eight months “for purposes of public order or national security.” Germany may hold a migrant with a deportation order for four days.

Daniel Verdú, Gabriela Cañas, Luis Doncel and Lucía Abellán contributed reporting to this story.

English version by Susana Urra.

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