Fresh protests supporting the rights of migrants and refugeesOn 21 April a group of migrants and refugees started an indefinite sit-in at the old Escola Massana in Barcelona to denounce the defencelessness and racist violence they suffer and call for greater rights.
The various collectives the protesters belong to have been mobilising for months (a similar sit-in was held in the Santa Anna church in December), if not years, calling for negotiation with the various administrations, mainly the Spanish government, which is responsible for matters relating to foreigners. Given the impossibility of dialogue, the groups of migrants and refugees voted between them to go ahead with a sit-in as a way of protesting over the serious situation they are in.
Their requests include the regularisation of unemployed migrants, more streamlined procedures to gain nationality without having to take exams, and improved shelter for refugees arriving in Catalonia.
In the last few days, the movement supporting the sit-in has organised various acts, such as a demonstration in the streets of the Raval neighbourhood on 28 April, the aim being to highlight the calls by the collective. This demonstration allowed the public a first-hand insight into the situations, in many cases surreal, of those in question, with staged exam questions for obtaining nationality including stating the profession of Enrique Iglesias.
Some of the typical and most important calls relate to obtaining a residency card and applying for family reunification via the famous ‘prior appointment’ system. It’s very difficult to get one in the short term, short staffing having collapsed the system, causing helplessness and desperation and even prompting people to buy appointments from agencies illegally selling them on.
At the same time, it appears that service given by offices handling foreigners’ affairs is not always humane or dignified, with collectives speaking of ‘institutional racism’.
Another focus for demands is flexibility over the labour requirement set out in the law on foreigners, which insists applicants have an employment contract of at least a year, working 40 hours a week, in order to get a NIE (ID number for foreigners). They criticise the fact given the precarious nature of the labour market at present, this requisite would be highly exacting for the Spanish population in itself and is practically impossible for migrants.
Unrestricted registration as residents
Besides the demands already mentioned, the groups involved in the sit-in are also calling for the exam to obtain nationality to be abolished; for guaranteed and unrestricted access to register as residents; universal healthcare for all, regardless of whether people have papers or not, and less stringent criteria for family reunification in the case of refugees.
Another demand is for specific measures to prevent sexist violence towards migrant women, and a long list of other measures including the extraordinary regularisation of residents with no papers or the overturning of the entire law on foreigners, which, according to spokespeople, “has changed five times, getting worse each time”. As for the call to stop penalising street vending, it is worth noting that this activity is currently penalised with administrative proceedings.
Barcelona City Council shares the view that the la won foreigners needs to be amended to help regularise migrants in irregular situations, facilitating their social inclusion to make them residents with full rights. After meeting the collectives protesting, the Commissioner for Immigration, Lola López, confirmed that the City Council supports their demands at a political level and pledges measures within its powers, such as facilitating registration as city residents. To this end, in the last two years Barcelona has actively developed policies for this process, streamlining the registration process for people with no fixed abode or those unable to prove they are renting a property, as well as offering information in people’s languages of origin. Some 8,000 people of no fixed abode have been able to register as city residents via this process.