Migrants walking towards a bus to cross the Strait of Gibraltar to the Iberian Peninsula in Melilla | Photo: EPA/F.G.Guerrero
Migrants walking towards a bus to cross the Strait of Gibraltar to the Iberian Peninsula in Melilla | Photo: EPA/F.G.Guerrero

Migrants and refugees at two centers in the Spanish enclave of Melilla are in danger due to overcrowding, according to the UN refugee agency, the UN migration agency and Amnesty International. Amnesty is calling for migrants to be transferred to "more dignified accommodations."

The human rights organization Amnesty International asked the Spanish interior ministry to immediately transfer residents from the temporary migrant residence center (CETI) and the bullring stadium in Melilla to "more dignified accommodations," in a statement (in Spanish) published on August 27.

Amnesty said that the situation for the migrants in the CETI and the bullring has been unsustainable for some time and has gotten worse due to the coronavirus pandemic. Esteban Beltrán, director of Amnesty International Spain, said that four people had tested positive for COVID-19 recently at the CETI.

On August 30, UN refugee agency UNHCR and UN migration agency IOM also published a statement, denouncing the situation of migrants and refugees at the the Melilla CETI and the bullring. They said that "the current hosting conditions [at the CETI] make it impossible to practice social distancing and implement sanitation measures that would protect residents from COVID-19."

The situation at the Melilla CETI

There are between 1,300 and 1,400 people in the CETI, according to estimates for the two UN agencies and Amnesty, even though the center has been built for no more than 782 people. Amnesty said that there are an estimated 150 women and 143 children living at the the center; as well as at least 50 people from the LGBTI community. According to IOM and UNHCR, there are also many highly vulnerable people with pre-existing medical conditions for whom COVID-19 poses a particularly deadly risk.

The situation at the bullring

Because the CETI is very overcrowded, IOM and UNHCR explained, "new arrivals are hosted in improvised spaces in extremely inadequate conditions, such as the city’s bullring."

Amnesty said that the situation for migrants at the Melilla bullring is even worse than for those at the CETI. Over 500 people are living in "deplorable conditions" at the stadium, the human rights organization claimed.

According to the Amnesty statement, a government delegation in Melilla recently announced the next transfer: 80 people from the Melilla bullring will send to the mainland. The organization said that this is not enough. "It excluded transfers of residents at the CETI, or the opening of new sites to host migrants in Melilla," Beltran said. "Amnesty International finds this position absolutely insufficient for resolving the overcrowding in the CETI and the bullring. It is extremely urgent that the interior ministry speed up transfers."

The demands from Amnesty, UNHCR, IOM

Amnesty International said that it had repeatedly called on the Spanish interior ministry to present a plan to alleviate overcrowding at the center and to speed up transfers to the mainland. The organization said there had been no transfers since May 28, when 136 people were transferred to the Spanish mainland.

IOM and UNHCR meanwhile urged "the relevant authorities to take concrete and coordinated action to improve reception conditions in Melilla, in order to guarantee a reception in accordance with the relevant and specific legal instruments."

As one of two Spanish enclaves located in Northern Africa, Melilla has long been a destination for migrants and refugees hoping to make it to the European Union -- which has often led to overcrowding at reception facilities. Earlier this month, a man died when he fell of a Melilla border fence, as about 300 people tried to storm the fence.

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