Violeta Dyka (20 years old) has been one of the first Ukrainian citizens who have traveled this Friday to the Fira de Barcelona to prove her status as a war refugee. The young woman arrived alone in Barcelona from kyiv on March 10 and, since then, she has stayed with a relative. The rest of her family and her boyfriend have stayed in Ukraine, in the Kremenchuk region. “I have come here to get the temporary protection document, but they have told us that today they only deal with urgent cases,” she recounted. “For me it is not a problem not to have this paper, but I have spent all the money I had on the trip and I am worried about having to go to the doctor and not being able to pay for it,” she added.
Like her, other Ukrainian citizens and their companions have gone to pavilion number seven of the Fira de Montjuïc in Barcelona in search of help with bureaucratic procedures. Some have even queued from early in the morning at the gates of the pavilion because they hoped to be able to request the document that recognizes them as refugees – the so-called European temporary protection document – and that allows them to access certain services such as health care. However, they have found that at the enabled point only those people who needed urgent assistance because they did not have a place to sleep were attended to.
Dyka, like most of his fellow citizens, has had to return to his relatives’ house without being able to get an appointment to apply for temporary protection. “I’ve called the number they gave me several times, but it doesn’t work,” she said. The young woman also said that her boyfriend has stayed in the Ukraine and has tried to enlist to fight against the Russians, but that “the army is full” and that for the moment she has had to stay home.
The malfunctioning of the telephone line to make an appointment has disappointed the dozens of Ukrainians who queued up at Montjuïc from early in the morning. The Minister of Inclusion, José Luís Escrivá, had already announced that it would only be possible to be attended by appointment, but some had not found out and other refugees confirmed that no one answered the other side of the enabled telephone –91 047 44 44– to request the prior appointment and obtain all kinds of information.
Some friends of Luda (53 years old), who has preferred not to give his last name, have explained that they have traveled to the Fira, but that they have not been able to help them. “Without an appointment, you can’t do anything and the phone to request it is not yet enabled”, one of them has translated. Luda arrived in Barcelona last Saturday and, for now, she has a place to stay, although her acquaintances have already helped her request more long-term accommodation. In any case, they are annoyed by the lack of clarity from the administration regarding the functioning of the Montjuïc pavilion: “We came to request temporary protection and they told us that we have to wait and make an appointment,” they explained. Most of the people who have traveled to the Fira de Barcelona have found themselves in a similar situation.
Throughout the morning, the doors of the so-called Victòria Eugènia Palace have been opened and closed on a few occasions to deal with priority cases and the queue of people first thing in the morning has become a trickle of families who They approached the translators at the entrance to request information.
In the coming days, the pavilion is expected to become a first reception point managed by the Red Cross. The Generalitat de Catalunya will also install a point of attention and information for refugees there and the Government plans to manage the first bureaucratic procedures to accredit Ukrainian citizens as war refugees. In order to request to be attended to at the Fira, however, Ukrainians will have to make an appointment using a telephone that is not yet available and this has caused confusion among those who have come to Montjuïc and have not been able to be attended.
The Generalitat has counted the arrival of some 8,000 Ukrainians in Catalonia in recent days, although they assure that the figure is not exact, because it is possible that some have moved to other territories of the country. A 33-year-old woman named Anna said that she has been in Barcelona for five days and that she is very grateful for the help they have offered her. “The people of the Red Cross have been very kind and I understand that it is not easy to manage the unexpected arrival of so many people,” said this woman, who has been able to stay in a hotel with her family as she does not have anyone she knows in the city. “I think the Spanish government is doing everything it can,” she added.
The feeling of gratitude was mixed with bewilderment in most of the people who have come to the Fira. Cristina Shapobalova, 23, has maintained that she has been in the Catalan capital with her mother for a week and that she considers that she is lucky, because she studied for a while in the city and knows how to get around it. “I don’t know how people who have never been to Barcelona before will manage it,” she said. Cristina’s father has stayed in the Ukraine, in the closest city to Russia, while she and her mother are staying with some acquaintances. “I need the temporary protection document, but I can’t get anyone to answer me by phone and the other day all I got was that they gave me an information paper in Spanish that I couldn’t understand,” she lamented.
The language difficulty has been alleviated with the assistance of translators, duly accredited with a yellow vest, to answer the questions of those who need it. In any case, the Ukrainian families who were staying with Spanish acquaintances have come with them to facilitate the process. Gabriel Va is one of them and this morning he accompanied the wife and two children of a Ukrainian friend of his to the Fira. “They have told us that being Ukrainians they will be able to obtain a year of residence directly and with the right to work and that they will not need to register to get the health card,” he recounted.