Credit: REACH, MMP
Credit: REACH, MMP

Spain in 2017 registered a significant increase in migrant and refugee arrivals on its coasts particularly from the Middle East and Syria. Data shows that most Syrians who had reached Spain had not intended to go there.

The report "From Syria to Spain" by REACH and the Mixed Migration Platform (MMP) focuses on the routes chosen by Syrian nationals to reach Spain between 2015 and 2017 and identifies why the country was selected as an entry point into Europe. Furthermore, it looks at situations and challenges confronted by migrants along these routes. 

Spain as second choice 

As of 31 October 2017, Spain recorded 21,304 irregular entries, twice as many as the same period in 2016, REACH states in the document. The first important result emerging from the research is that ''Syrians who reached Spain did not initially intend to go to Europe or Spain when they left home. Most intended to build a life in the Middle East and North Africa, where the vast majority of respondents lived for three years or more before deciding to go to Spain''. 

Syrians subsequently chose to travel to Spain mainly due to the ''lack of access to documentation, labor exploitation and overall deterioration of living conditions in the MENA region'', the report said. Information on irregular routes for Spain ''were easily accessible and preferred to going through Libya to Italy, as this route was perceived as too dangerous''. 

Spain is not considered by migrants as ''a transit country to other EU countries. Interviewees were open to staying, as they considered Spain similar to Syria in terms of culture and weather conditions''. 

Irregular routes and legal access 

Syrians who traveled irregularly to the country ''followed two different routes via North Africa. First, through Morocco and Algeria'' and the second ''transiting through Mauritania and Mali to Algeria and Morocco, an increasingly common route when Algeria introduced visa requirements for Syrian nationals in spring 2015''. 

Syrians who traveled to Spain legally followed two legal pathways: resettlement and the EU emergency relocation scheme. Concerning respondents who arrived through resettlement, none had aimed to reach Spain when they left Syria, their original intention being to settle in neighboring countries such as Lebanon or Turkey'', said the report.

''Syrians only learned about relocation and resettlement programmes from official information channels, such as UNHCR or other humanitarian organizations''. The study stressed that irregular travel is ''more lengthy, dangerous, and expensive compared to legal pathways. All participants who had reached Spain irregularly had at some point in their journey engaged the services of a smuggler. The irregular border crossing between Algeria and Morocco was the most perilous part of the journey to Europe''. 

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