Spain fails to open new routes for migrant deportation flights

The Central Government is finding it extremely difficult to resume normally the deportation flights of migrants in an irregular situation that were suspended during the pandemic for health reasons.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
29 March 2024 Friday 11:05
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Spain fails to open new routes for migrant deportation flights

The Central Government is finding it extremely difficult to resume normally the deportation flights of migrants in an irregular situation that were suspended during the pandemic for health reasons. Since 2020, Spain has only managed to contract ten flights with 123 people bound for their countries of origin. Last year, when all records were broken with 56,852 irregular entries - due to the migration crisis in the Canary Islands -, the Government organized four flights with a total of 59 deported migrants. In addition, for the first time in the last four years, Algeria - which cooperated in maritime returns - did not accept any deportation operations by boat in 2023. The Ministry of the Interior consoles themselves with the fact that the rest of the Union countries with which they share the migration policy also find it "almost impossible to organize these flights".

Interior works with Foreign Affairs on this policy and they are convinced that deportation flights are an effective formula to deter irregular immigration. In fact, in the last trips that ministers Fernando Grande-Marlaska and José Manuel Albares have made to countries of origin and transit of migration routes - such as Senegal, Mauritania or Morocco - the issue of deportations has always been about the table with their counterparts, as confirmed by ministerial sources. The problem is that the expulsions of migrants do not depend only on the will of Spain, but - to a large extent - on the compliance of the receiving country. And it is here that they run into a wall that is difficult to overcome.

The Government managed to hire a flight to Dakar last autumn, after the two ministers met with Senegalese officials. In the Canary archipelago alone, almost 40,000 immigrants arrived in 2023, the majority on board Senegalese cayucos. The deportees, according to police sources, were not newly arrived immigrants, but people with files pending execution for their expulsion. However, neither the Interior nor the Foreign Affairs have succeeded in starting the commitment to maintain the regularity of these flights, due to the popular rejection it generates in the countries of origin.

According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, to which the same sources refer, remittances - the money sent by emigrants to relatives - account for between 5% and 10% of GDP in some African countries. "Accepting the expulsions means confirming that you are collaborating so that your nationals who support their families from abroad stop doing so. This is very complicated to justify", defend government sources.

This explains, in part, the opacity with which Interior manages this issue; the ministry that leads Marlaska refuses to give details of the flights with expelled immigrants. A parliamentary response to the deputy of EH Bildu Jon Iñarritu, to which La Vanguardia has had access, reveals that neither in 2020 nor in 2021 the Government managed to make flights of this kind. However, in those two years there were repatriations by boat to Algeria: 44 with a total of 764 Algerians, 10 of whom were women.

In 2022, when the flights were restored, six were hired with 64 migrants on board. From Almeria, that same year, 13 ships left for Algeria with 198 repatriates, all men. However, last year the number of flights decreased to four with 59 people expelled. And no marine device. Figures that, as recognized by senior government officials in private, are "far from what we would like".

This lack of open avenues to proceed with returns causes a huge bottleneck between deportation orders and their executions. According to the Aliens Act, being in an irregular situation in Spain is a serious offence, which can be linked to expulsion from the country. But this, as police sources acknowledge, is neither an easy nor quick procedure; the migrant has the possibility to submit a series of allegations through the contentious process which can greatly delay the process.

Expulsion can only be agreed, according to Supreme Court doctrine, if there are aggravating factors such as not having papers, having a criminal record or having no family or domicile in Spain. If the expulsion is finally given the green light, it is in the next step that it collapses: the orders can barely be executed because the countries refuse to recognize the citizens as their own.

The Government defends that Spain is one of the countries with better return rates. However, it is impossible to compare these data because there is no community transparency. In the same response to the EH Bildu parliamentarian, Moncloa reports that last year there were 28 joint international flights financed by the Frontex agency - which has no negotiating capacity - with 689 people expelled. They left from Madrid and the destination was "different countries". In 2022, the number of these international flights was 20 with 348 people on board also with different destinations. However, it is not clear how many migrants Spain managed to repatriate.

These data show the enormous difficulties that countries encounter in executing expulsions. That is why at the beginning of the year, when the controversy broke out over the transfer of powers in the matter of migration to Catalonia - initiated by Junts -, the Interior was stunned when the pro-independence party said it wanted to manage the expulsions. "They think this is buying a plane ticket and putting the migrant on a return flight", they joked. Given the complexity of the issue, it was Pedro Sánchez who concluded the controversy: "It is up to the Central Administration to expel migrants".