Spain: legalising human rights violations?

27 March 2015

Madrid, 27 March 2015 – The Spanish parliament, yesterday evening, adopted a law that allows for immediate returns of irregular migrants at the borders of the Spanish enclaves Ceuta and Melilla in Morocco. JRS Europe and SJM Spain have serious concerns that the law would legalise ‘hot returns’ of people in need of protection without providing them with access to the proper procedures. We call upon the European Commission to fully investigate the human rights implications of this law.

The new Spanish law states that migrants who are apprehended at the borders of Ceuta or Melilla while attempting to cross them irregularly can be immediately returned ‘in order to prevent illegal immigration into Spain.’ A lack of procedural safeguards means that the use of excessive force by Spanish border guards when expelling migrants is likely to go unchecked. These policies do not take into account any protection-needs of the affected migrants.

Although the law states that border rejections will be carried out in compliance with international human rights norms, it fails to detail how this will be achieved in practice.

“This new law contains no specific guarantees that the rights of people in need of protection will in fact be respected,” notes Stefan Kessler, JRS Europe senior policy officer.

Especially the right not to be returned to a country where a person might become a victim of serious human rights violations (the ‘non-refoulement’ principle) is in danger if people are forcibly returned without having the possibility to lodge an asylum claim. This right is enshrined most prominently in the 1951 UN refugee convention and the UN convention against torture, but also in EU legislation.

Another general clause in the law provides for applications for international protection to be submitted at specific border crossing points. However, there are no safeguards in place that would ensure that these crossing points can be accessed by potential protection-seekers. All official entrances to Ceuta and Melilla are not only controlled by the Spanish border police but also heavily guarded by Moroccan forces.

“There is the concrete danger that persons will be physically prevented from reaching the border crossing points and therefore will be blocked from lodging a protection claim,” says Kessler.

“Now the European Commission must act. A violation of international and European norms cannot be accepted,” concludes Kessler.

JRS Europe joins the Servicio Jesuita a Migrantes (SJM) Spain and other voices in their call on the Spanish government to withdraw the new amendments and to ensure that Spain fully complies with its obligations under international and European law. People in need of protection must be given access to proper procedures and to safety in Europe.

Now the European Commission must act. A violation of international and European norms cannot be accepted.