Several thousand protesters marched Saturday in Madrid, urging the Spanish government to keep its commitment to accept refugees.
Spain has pledged to allow 17,300 refugees from such war-torn countries as Syria, Iraq and Libya to settle in the country, as its part of a Europewide commitment to do more to help alleviate the continent’s migration crisis.
Amnesty International reports that Madrid has relocated or resettled only 1,304 people, less than 10 percent of its pledge. Throughout Europe, most countries have similarly small accomplishments, based on the pledges to take in refugees they made to the European Commission in 2015.
The protest in Spain by dozens of nongovernmental organizations, including Amnesty International, was called just ahead of World Refugee Day on Tuesday.
In 2015, the European Commission set a deadline of September 2017 to resettle or relocate 160,000 refugees throughout Europe. That number was later amended to 98,000 refugees after finding fewer people than expected were eligible for the program. As of early June, however, only about 21,000 asylum-seekers have been relocated.
Of the many European states that committed themselves to accepting refugees, only Finland and Malta have met their obligations.
Hungary, Austria and Poland refused to make a commitment to accept refugees, and Britain chose not to participate in the joint action, The Guardian newspaper reported three months ago. In addition, four European Commission members — the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovakia — accepted only “very limited” commitments.
In Madrid, protesters marched in 40-degree Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) temperatures Saturday, chanting, “No human being is illegal,” and holding banners that read “Bridges not walls” and “Enough is enough.”
“Spain is doing absolutely nothing of what it should be doing. It’s a disgrace — Spain and Europe,” Carlos Diez, 55, a secondary school teacher at the protest, told the French news agency AFP.
Christian Lele, 27, from Cameroon, climbed a border fence between Morocco and the Spanish territory of Melilla in 2014. Taken to several refugee centers, he ended up in Madrid, where he now works as a gardener.
Lele told AFP he was at the march as a sign of solidarity with others who are hoping to relocate in Europe.
“I wanted to study, change my life, help my family,” he said. “You can’t live well [in Cameroon] with the little they pay you.”
Migrants reach Sicily
Also Saturday, a vessel operated by the Spanish aid group Proactive Open Arms arrived in the port of Pozzallo, in southern Sicily,with more than 600 migrants rescued from the Mediterranean Sea.
The migrants had set out from Libya, the most common departure point for those trying to reach Europe by sea.
By mid-June, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said more than 77,000 migrants had crossed the Mediterranean to Europe this year. The overwhelming majority — nearly 85 percent — arrived in Italy, with smaller numbers of migrants landing in Greece, Spain and Cyprus.
During the same period, IOM said, 1,828 migrants died or disappeared at sea. During all of 2016, nearly 215,000 migrants arrived in Europe by sea; more than 2,900 died.
The smugglers enlisted by migrants trying to reach Europe often place their human cargo in unseaworthy vessels. Most of the people who arrive in Europe are rescued by European ships once they reach international waters.