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04 September 2020 – Spain

Solidary Wheels, “Melilla - Without Health Guarantees and With Protests,” 26 August 2020,
Solidary Wheels, “Melilla - Without Health Guarantees and With Protests,” 26 August 2020,

In Melilla, more than 1,400 refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants–including 150 women and 143 children–have again been confined in the enclave’s overcrowded CETI (Center for Temporary Stay of Immigrants) following a Covid-19 diagnosis. On 21 August, the facility was closed with no-one permitted to enter or exit–despite a judge’s decision on 24 August to overturn the government’s closure of this nominally open facility.

As observers have highlighted since the start of the pandemic, conditions inside the centre are extremely unhealthy, with detainees unable to practice social distancing or implement recommended sanitation measures (for more on conditions in CETIs, see our 15 May update). This, combined with the news that a detainee had tested positive for the virus, prompted rising fears amongst the centre’s confined population, and on 25 August some of the centre’s detainees orchestrated peaceful protests in which they requested transfers to the mainland. In response however, riot police fired rubber bullets and tear gas on the protestors. According to Solidary Wheels, an independent group present in Melilla, several protestors were injured,and 33 were arrested and had their phones confiscated. The government’s spokesman also announced that as punishment, those arrested would not be transferred to the mainland.

With the CETI operating beyond its capacity, hundreds of non-nationals in Melilla have been placed in improvised spaces such as the city’s bullring, which were also closed on 21 August. However, according to Amnesty International the conditions in the bullring are even worse than in the CETI, with more than 500 confined in a “deplorable” environment. The Council of Europe’s (CoE) Commissioner for Human Rights has also raised concerns regarding living conditions in the facility, and urged authorities to find alternative forms of accommodation for those held inside. According to Solidary Wheels, when new arrivals were placed in the ad-hoc facility on 20 August, an area of the facility was forced to quarantine due to the lack of space for new arrivals to isolate from others. The CoE’s Commissioner for Human Rights further noted that, “The situation of the persons placed in quarantine appears to be even more precarious, notably as regards access to toilets and showers, natural light and sufficient water and food, as well as access to asylum proceedings.”

On 28 August, a second judge from a higher instance court declared the closure of both the CETI and the bullring as disproportionate given the low number of confirmed cases, and ordered the centres to be re-opened. However, according to Solidary Wheels, many non-nationals remain fearful that as cases continue to rise in Spain, a second lock-down will once again force people to be locked inside the CETI and other accommodation centres. (During Spain’s first wave, facilities in Melilla remained locked down for an additional month after measures were eased for Spanish residents.)

Moreover, despite the re-opening of the facilities, non-nationals continue to be essentially confined to the 12sq km enclave–despite the Supreme Court previously declaring that they should be transferred to mainland Spain with their asylum seeker “red card.” Although 80 persons are scheduled to be transferred to the mainland in coming days, no transfers have been conducted since 28 May. As Amnesty International, which has made repeated calls for non-nationals to be transferred to the mainland, stated, “[We find] this position absolutely insufficient for resolving the overcrowding in the CETI and the bullring. It is extremely urgent that the interior ministry speed up transfers.”

The IOM and UNHCR have also noted their concerns regarding the situation in the enclave, and on 29 August the two organisations urged relevant authorities “to take concrete and coordinated action to improve reception conditions in Melilla, in order to guarantee a reception in accordance with the relevant and specific legal instruments.”