Spain’s coalition government clashes over immigration crackdown

The Interior Ministry’s announcement of tougher requirements for asylum seekers has upset Unidas Podemos, which argues the policy goes against the governing deal

Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska.
Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska.Eduardo Parra - Europa Press (Europa Press)
María Martín

The Spanish coalition government between the Socialist Party (PSOE) and the anti-austerity Unidas Podemos is showing the first signs of tensions over plans to introduce tougher asylum requirements. Spain’s Interior Ministry is drafting a new law that will restrict the right to asylum, following the path taken by the European Union in recent years. A draft of the bill, to which EL PAÍS has had access, limits access to asylum application at migrant holding centers, and expands the list of legitimate reasons for denial.

But this is not the only source of conflict. Indeed, the tension between the two parties has been building for weeks in response to Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska’s tougher stance on immigration. In recent months, the minister has increased deportations of undocumented migrants to Mauritania to relieve pressure on Spain’s Canary Islands, which have seen a huge spike in irregular arrivals.

The issue of migration has become the first source of conflict in the coalition government

Grande-Marlaska also welcomed last week’s ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that found that Spain’s deportation of two sub-Saharan migrants, who jumped the border fence separating Morocco from the Spanish exclave city of Melilla in 2014, with around 70 others, did not violate the European Convention on Human Rights.

In this case, the men, identified by the initials N. D. and N. T., were immediately deported to Morocco instead of being processed first in Spain, a procedure known as an “express deportation.”

Sources from Unidas Podemos told Europa Press on Wednesday that “toughening the law against people who travel to our country fleeing hunger and war, and praising sentences that violate their human rights” goes against the governing deal that the anti-austerity party struck with the PSOE after the inconclusive results of the November 2019 election. In this document, Unidas Podemos and PSOE agreed to work toward a “fair and supportive” migration policy that “respects human rights.”

Sources from Unidas Podemos asked on Wednesday for Grande-Marlaska to “clarify the misunderstanding as soon as possible.” The government issued a press release later on Wednesday afternoon that said “migration policy is a state issue, based on respect and the observance of judicial decisions and human rights.” The statement from La Moncloa, the seat of government, added that this policy must also be based on cooperation with countries of origin, the fight against human trafficking, and the “establishment of channels to correctly identify between asylum requests and economic migrants.”

The issue of migration has become the first source of conflict in the coalition government, which has kept a united front until now.

In December, Unidas Podemos and PSOE agreed to work toward a “fair and supportive” migration policy that “respects human rights”

Although the Unidas Podemos members in Cabinet have not publicly expressed their concern, the issue is shaping up to be the party’s first battle with the PSOE since it entered government.

Last Friday, Unidas Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias attended a tense government meeting, where Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo and Grande-Marlaska were among those present. The meeting was called to discuss the government’s priorities on migration – for instance shelters for unaccompanied foreign migrants, but instead focused on the ECHR ruling on express deportations.

Two sources with knowledge of the meeting say that it was Grande-Marlaska who maintained the toughest position on the issue, which led to conflict with the leaders from Unidas Podemos. In the end, the ministers agreed to only publicly say that they would adhere to the court decision, without expressing a judgment on it. The PSOE and Unidas Podemos were both vocal opponents of express deportations while in opposition.

Unidas Podemos has always been a strong champion for migrant rights. In the election program ahead of last year’s November 10 repeat election, the party promised to shut down Immigrant Detention Centers (CIEs) and stop express deportations. But Iglesias has also said on numerous occasions that entering a minority government with the PSOE would force Unidas Podemos to go back on many of its promises and support policies inconsistent with its own.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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