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MSF in Spain, 2004
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Giving a warmer welcome to immigrants
In the last few years, Spain has become a primary destination for immigrants attempting to enter the European Union. Located at the edge of Europe and close to Africa, the country is now home to 800,000 to one million undocumented immigrants. However, the government's system of receiving immigrants takes little account of their medical and humanitarian needs and focuses instead on expelling those who lack documentation.
In 2003 and 2004, MSF's projects in Spain centered on giving medical and humanitarian assistance to exhausted and sick immigrants arriving in the country's most popular entry areas: the Canary Islands and Ceuta and Melilla, two Spanish enclaves in northern Africa. MSF also collects personal testimony from the immigrants as part of its campaign to raise awareness of their plight among government officials and the public.
On 1 March 2004, MSF started an emergency intervention in Fuerteventura, Canary Islands, to provide humanitarian assistance to immigrants arriving on the island's shores. The 7,858 immigrants who arrived in Fuerteventura in 2003 and the nearly 3,000 who arrived in the first part of 2004 had received no assistance.
The team set up a field hospital and a mobile team who work right on the beaches and in the port where immigrants intercepted by the coast guard are taken. The MSF team provides basic medical care and first aid, identifying those with serious illnesses and referring them to health centers on the island. The team also distributes blankets, water, warm drinks and biscuits.
Fuerteventura has become the main destination for immigrants, especially those coming from Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Their physical condition, whether on arrival on the beaches or after their interception, is always the same: hypothermia, hypoglycemia, exhaustion, dehydration, hunger and thirst. Many also have cuts, bruises and sprains sustained during their perilous journey.
MSF has denounced the government's current system of reception and is working to build support for an advocacy campaign that calls on the government to take responsibility for these immigrants. MSF is also attempting to improve undocumented immigrants' access to the health care system.
During the first part of 2004, MSF closed a project through which it had provided assistance to undocumented immigrants in Ceuta. The organization's strong advocacy campaign had helped influence the Spanish government to begin to provide the immigrants with appropriate medical and humanitarian assistance.
MSF has worked in Spain since 1994.