Barely two weeks had passed since the beginning of the Russian invasion and five days after the approval of the European regulations that would allow the rapid reception of refugees from Ukraine when the Spanish Government announced that it would go further. After considering that “the consequences of the war affect many other people”, the Executive showed off having agreed to “expand the scope” of the community directive and grant immediate temporary protection not only to Ukrainians, but also to legal residents in the country in conflict, regardless of the duration of their permits.
The Government will regularize all Ukrainians who lived in Spain without papers before the Russian invasion
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) rushed to applaud the initiative of the Spanish Executive to also grant foreign residents in Ukraine this type of protection, which entails automatic residence and work permits. “The government’s response is being very positive because it not only protects Ukrainians, but also other people who flee Ukraine and need protection,” Sophie Muller, UNHCR representative in Spain, said in mid-March.
Three months later, Muller shows his concern at the partial breach of this promise. The teams of the UN agency, which monitor that all guarantees are met in the reference centers for refugees in Ukraine, confirm that they are receiving more and more cases of foreign citizens residing in Ukraine who are prevented by the National Police from requesting the temporary protection for not being Ukrainians or not being relatives of a person of this nationality. Although it is not possible to know the exact number, as they are not registered, Acnur calculates that it is “hundreds” of affected.
In addition to the UN agency, the main organizations that manage the reference centers to receive and document refugees from Ukraine (CREADE) confirm to elDiario.es the blockade that an undetermined number of non-Ukrainian citizens fleeing from Ukraine are facing. the Russian invasion. The Spanish Commission for Refugee Aid (CEAR), the Red Cross and Accem have been aware of dozens of people of different nationalities who, when they go to request their temporary protection permit, the agents of specialized centers or police stations authorized to document those fleeing the Russian invasion refuse to register their petition, according to spokespersons for UNHCR and the three entities to elDiario.es. The result: these people do not access the procedure, they cannot even formalize their request, so there is no record of their rejection.
Interior sources deny that this type of situation is a “systemic problem”, beyond what it considers “specific cases” that, according to what they say, “can be corrected”. The department led by Fernando Grande-Marlaska says it has granted temporary protection to 6,862 refugees who are not Ukrainian nationals. However, their figures do not distinguish between how many are relatives of Ukrainians and how many are not. Nor do they detail the evolution of the granting of these permits: the organizations denounce that, while initially the Interior did grant this authorization automatically to citizens of third countries exiled from Ukraine, a few weeks later the problems began.
Joseph, a Nigerian national, is one of those affected. The 25-year-old had lived in Ukraine since 2020. There, in the city of Zaporizhia, he was studying Computer Engineering, where he combined his training with a job in customer service, until the war interrupted his many plans for the future. He decided to travel to Spain, where he doesn’t know anyone, because they told him about the announcement from the Spanish government. He learned that foreigners like him, with a student permit, could find protection in Spain after fleeing the Russian invasion. He arrived in Euskadi on April 4. He hasn’t gotten it yet.
“They told me that Spain was the best option, that foreign residents were given documentation and temporary work permits, but the reality that I have found here is very different,” says Joseph from Bilbao, where he lives in a managed shelter. by CEAR. The Nigerian, whose residence card in Ukraine was valid until May this year, has tried to apply for temporary protection at two different police stations in Spain.
The first day, on April 27, he went to the Bilbao Provincial Immigration and Border Brigade, where he had a specific appointment to request temporary protection due to the war in Ukraine, according to the documentation provided to this medium. “They told me that, since he was not Ukrainian, he could not ask for it,” laments the young man.
He wanted to think that it was a “specific” error, as Interior defends, so he tried his luck in another location. On May 24, he went, also by appointment, to the Miranda del Ebro police station (Burgos). Nor: “The police told me that I couldn’t ask for temporary protection, that I had to go back to Nigeria, but I can’t go back to my country,” says Joseph. Having got a student visa from Nigeria to Ukraine where he, he says, had a “good life”, he now fears all his efforts will go to waste. “I am afraid of what is going to happen. I hope I can start again here, get a job… I don’t have a place to go, in Nigeria I have many problems”, adds the Nigerian.
UNHCR sources calculate that, between the cases detected by their teams and those transferred by other organizations, there are “hundreds” of people who have fled Ukraine in a situation similar to that of Joseph. “Our staff present at the CREADE [los centros de refugiados de Ucrania] is learning that there are people of different nationalities who come from Ukraine who do not find access to the request for temporary protection”, says the representative of the UN Agency in Spain.
The person in charge of the legal area of CEAR, Paloma Favieres, claims to have detected “between 40 and 50 cases” from her organization alone. “In the beginning, they accepted these cases without problems. And, suddenly, in the CREADE [los centros específicos para la crisis de Ucrania], the place where we can better measure the pulse of what was happening, different organizations are beginning to alert that nationals of third countries are not accessing temporary protection”, explains the lawyer. At first, she says, she detected that access to these citizens was being prevented in all the reference centers except Malaga.
“There was a time when it was possible in Malaga, and many non-Ukrainian citizens moved there. Until the CREADE of Malaga receives a verbal instruction that third-country nationals cannot obtain temporary protection, ”explains the lawyer from CEAR, the organization that manages the reception in the Malaga center. “The Police now consider that, if you are from another country, you can return to that country or you can request international protection. But that assessment does not correspond to the National Police, “says Favieres. Interior denies having issued an instruction in this regard.
After a first refusal at the center for Ukrainian refugees in Barcelona, Mohamed was recommended to try to request his documentation in Malaga. The Algerian didn’t make it either. “They told me that I could not access the temporary protection procedure – the fast track created for refugees from Ukraine – because they considered my country to be safe. The only option they gave me was that I could request international protection at another police station”, explains the young man from Germany, where he has moved temporarily because a sporadic job has arisen. But there he cannot stay. The international protection procedure is collapsed, with long waits just to get an appointment that allows access to the system. “I wanted to go to Spain because I know Spanish, I know people, it was my best option and they told me that I would find protection here. But when they checked my documents and told me no, I couldn’t believe it,” says the young man, who had been studying Russian in kyiv since June 2021.
ask for a protocol
UNHCR has “shown its concern” to the Home Office in various meetings and emails, Muller confirms. Although the Government had not specified it in the press conference after the Council of Ministers on March 8, the ministerial order that regulated the temporary protection activated for refugees from Ukraine establishes that residents of third countries – who are not relatives of Ukrainians – could obtain these special permits as long as “they cannot return to their country or region of origin in safe and lasting conditions”.
But studying this requirement individually, say the entities consulted, cannot be done with the speed that temporary protection promised. The representative of the UN Agency in Spain considers that a “different” protocol should be enabled to process requests for temporary protection of third-country nationals, by which the automation of the process is “interrupted” so that the Office of Asylum study these cases individually to determine whether or not they can return to their country of origin.
“I have asked the Ministry of the Interior again if they can tell us what the protocol is. Because we are facing an increasingly unclear position. We see that for some there is an answer and for others there is not. We have not received an official position on how to do it,” Muller questions. CEAR, the Red Cross and Accem affirm that they have expressed their concern about this group and possible solutions to the Ministry of the Interior at various meetings.
“We transferred the situation to Interior, but they tell us that it is a complicated problem. Our proposal is not that LEDs provide temporary protection automatically. The agreement establishes that they must demonstrate that they do not have a safe and lasting situation in their countries of origin, for which they deserve to access the procedure and that the Asylum Office of the Ministry of the Interior, after an individualized study of each case, decides if it corresponds to them. access these permits or not”, says the lawyer for Cear, an organization that has filed two complaints with the Ombudsman in relation to these cases. The Diaconía association also claims to have registered a complaint with the CREADE of Barcelona, forwarded to the Ministries of Interior and Inclusion, in which it collects the refusal of the police personnel of the center to collect the request for temporary protection of an Eritrean citizen and another Palestinian.
Mohamed shows videos recorded during the first days of the war in Ukraine, where he heard the bombing and suffered material damage from the blast wave. “It’s complicated. Now I am not protected. I need to be documented. I just want a normal life. I just want to live like anyone else, like I used to do in kyiv”, says the Algerian.