Spanish Government Urged to Address Ongoing Needs of Newly Arrived Immigrants

MSF providing assistance to 497 immigrants without shelter in Ceuta, Spain

Ceuta, Spain, November 14, 2003 - Hundreds of men and women, most of them newly arrived asylum seekers from Sub-Saharan Africa, are still without shelter, sufficient food, and medical assistance on the beaches of Ceuta, Spain, and are being forced to spend nights in the open in poor weather conditions.

Since the Spanish authorities ordered the dismantling of a refugee camp Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) had initially set up to provide care to hundreds of immigrants who could not be accommodated in the government-run Temporary Center for Immigrants (CETI), the situation has continued to deteriorate.

"CETI is still overcrowded and for each vacancy there are at least three people waiting to be accommodated," says Carlos Ugarte, Coordinator of the MSF project. "At this pace, years will go by before the situation becomes stable and the basic needs of these individuals are adequately addressed through government-run reception facilities, as they should be." In the meantime, MSF is providing assistance to hundreds of newly arrived asylum seekers who survive as best they can sleeping rough on the beaches and hills of Ceuta - a situation that is clearly unacceptable in western Europe.

In the face of escalating homelessness and lack of statutory provisions for this group, the voluntary sector is increasingly being called upon to assist. Recently, the Vicar of the Cadiz and Ceuta Diocese turned an old school into a makeshift shelter to offer accommodation to destitute individuals who still remain in the town. Despite the fact that nearly 260 individuals are crammed into the building every night, the school has one shower and four toilets. Twenty-three women are being offered shelter by another religious organization.

"It is paradoxical at best that in a country such as Spain, a signatory to the United Nation's Geneva Convention for the protection of the rights of refugees, that asylum seekers in Ceuta have to live on public charity, without shelter and basic provision, and with access to medical care restricted to emergencies only." Ugarte said. "Yet the Spanish authorities keep them confined in this bordering enclave while their asylum applications are being dealt with."

MSF's medical team working in the area is deeply concerned about the deteriorating health situation among the immigrant population, particularly the alarming increase in the number of respiratory infections, exacerbated by worsening weather conditions. Among the individuals crowding into local clinics, MSF doctors have recorded cases of gastro-intestinal diseases as a result of inadequate nutrition, skin problems due to lack of hygiene, and chronic diseases that are not being addressed adequately by statutory health services.

Civil society, through non-governmental organizations and religious groups, are trying to respond compassionately, with limited means, to a problem that should be addressed by Spanish authorities. Although the Ministry of the Interior recently declared that the authorities are doing all they can to provide the best possible humanitarian assistance to newly arrived immigrants, statutory services are clearly not meeting the ongoing needs and the situation for individuals living outside on hills and beaches around Ceuta is deteriorating as weather conditions worsen. "I would invite them to pay a visit to our project in Ceuta, as the current situation shows that the authorities are certainly not providing sufficient assistance to this group at this time," Ugarte concluded.

MSF is committed providing ongoing social and medical assistance to this population until proper, humane reception and shelter facilities are set up and the basic human rights of these individuals are fully respected.