Towns and cities receive and integrate refugees but in Spain they are not involved in asylum policies, nor do they receive any funding to implement them. The central government does not fund local integration policies, despite receiving European funds for that purpose. The allocation for 2014-2020 is more than 330 million euros.
The central government has outsourced the administration of the programme for receiving people seeking international protection in Spain to three NGOs working in asylum, namely the Spanish Refugee Aid Commission (CEAR), the Spanish Catholic Migration Commission Association (ACCEM) and the Red Cross. These three NGOs are also responsible for dealing with all the refugees arriving in Spain in the context of the current crisis.
The state programme covers the basic needs of people requiring international protection (accommodation, upkeep, and psychosocial care) for a period from six to nine months, depending on the case and time. Until September 2015, the programme only had 28 accommodation places in the whole of Catalonia, although this figure has increased after some ninety more were made available to meet the European commitments.
Once this initial period is over, refugees are allowed to work but have to find a job and their own accommodation. They then become a vulnerable group with numerous care and support needs. The social reception programme often ends long before any decision has been reached on their asylum request, leaving them without any protection. And those who are not granted international protection end up in an irregular situation. They accounted for 80% of all asylum seekers up to 2014.
Barcelona is involved in the reception process for refugees and asylum seekers from day one, integrating them into the neighbourhoods and helping them in their everyday social and cultural life; helping children in city schools and all those people who need help with the public health service and social services.
The city continues to assist them, when they have to join the labour market and fend for themselves, and with their long-term integration where circumstances do not allow them to their country of origin, even if it is their wish to go back.
Barcelona asylum data
- Change in the number of people assisted by SAIER
- Main nationalities assisted by SAIER
Chart showing the number of refugees dealt with by the Care Service for Immigrants, Emigrants and Refugees (SAIER) during 2015, their countries of origin and the increase in their numbers from 2012 to 2015. The main countries are Ukraine and Syria.
Barcelona has a long experience of receiving and integrating newcomers to the city, and facilitating access to municipal programmes and services for everyone who comes here, regardless of their legal status.
The city's Care Service for Immigrants, Emigrants and Refugees (SAIER) has been in operation since 1989, a free municipal service run jointly by the City council and five other expert organisations: CITE-CCOO, AMIC-UGT, the ACSAR Foundation, the Barcelona Lawyers' Association (CAB), the Red Cross and the Language Normalisation Consortium (CNL).
SAIER had a budget of 1.5 million euros in 2015 and dealt with 12,000 people, half of whom were in an irregular situation. The budget for 2016 will be 1.7 million euros.
SAIER offers general services to all non-EU residents who need them, for example, assistance with the legal side of their asylum application; social care and psychological support for vulnerable people; recognition of academic qualifications; learning Catalan and the accommodation and upkeep of the most vulnerable people through the network of temporary municipal accommodation mechanisms. The service also offers support to people living in Barcelona who emigrate or return to their country of origin.
People requesting international protection represent an average of about 12% of all SAIER users, but this is a rapidly growing group. There is a constant flow of new arrivals. Social care for these people increased by 40% in 2015 and legal help by 81%. Ukrainians and Syrians were the two main nationalities and the ones that have increased the most.
SAIER offers a legal service through its agreement with the ACSAR Foundation, a pioneering organisation in Spain with regard to refugees which advises and assists them through the asylum application process. For its part, the Red Cross provides social care under the terms of its agreement with the Spanish government.
In many cases the municipal service makes up for the deficiencies of the Spanish State's refugee reception programme, providing accommodation and care for the most vulnerable people and families with children who, for one reason or another, do not have access to that programme. That meant about half a million euros were spent on emergency temporary accommodation in 2015, when the state programme could not cope with the increase in demand.
Municipal reception programme
The refugees living in Barcelona arrived here on their own account, individually or with their families, by various routes, through Greece and Turkey, the north of Morocco, Ceuta and Melilla or by plane with a tourist visa. SAIER attended to nearly 1,400 people in 2015, 60% more than in the previous year and four times the number for 2012.
While asylum seekers without any resources of their own can turn to the state care programme once their asylum request has been accepted for consideration, many are excluded and this often leaves them in a very vulnerable situation. That happens for various reasons. For example, because they have been returned to Spain from another European state through the application of the “Dublin system”. Or because they wanted to stay in Barcelona and have refused the destination they were obliged to go to by the Ministry of Employment and Social Affairs. Or because their belonging to a certain social group, their state of health or their sexual orientation makes it inadvisable for them to stay in communal hostels.
The Municipal Reception Programme was launched in 2015 to protect and provide shelter for these people via an agreement with two of the three social entities delegated by the central government to handle the reception process, ACCEM and CEAR. The initiative is now being extended to include other refuge entities working in Catalonia, with agreements being drawn up with the Fundació Benallar, Iniciatives Solidàries, Fundació Ficat and the Associació catalana per a la integració d’homosexuals, bisexuals i transexuals immigrants (Acathi). Psychological support for all users will be provided by the Fundació Exil.
The programme creates a permanent, stable structure for the care and social support of these people and 82 accommodation places in Barcelona, which will provide a service for at least 164 people a year. The cost of the programme, borne by City Council, is 800,000 euros a year, which works out at 30 euros per person per day.
The aim of the programme s to improve social insertion processes and the autonomy of these people, guaranteeing that once their temporary stay draws to an end they are able to enter the labour market and embark on a new life themselves.
To this end, the programme goes further than simply covering refugees’ basic needs and apart from temporary accommodation includes an integrated and individual work plan with an array of services: professional, social and psychological support, legal advice, help with finding a job and social integration to ease the transition to independence.
The general access criteria for the programme means that users should be people who have requested asylum, who are in a vulnerable situation or at risk of social exclusion and who have a link with Barcelona. This may be as they have family in the city or a social support network, as they are studying here or receiving medical treatment, or as they have a connection with one of the delegated entities.
The programme also provides access for refugees arriving in Barcelona via the ‘City to City’ initiative and the agreement with Athens to relocate a hundred people to Barcelona, if the state finally gives authorisation.
Preference will be given to families with young children, pregnant women, the elderly, people with serious illnesses (physical or mental), people with disabilities, people who have been the victim of torture and abuse or gender violence, people who have been persecuted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and all those living rough with no resources or social support network.