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Migration & Refugees

Notorious Immigrant Detention Centre Closed in Spain

MÁLAGA, Spain, Jun 20 2012 (IPS) - The closure of one of Spain’s eight immigration detention centres on Wednesday was celebrated by human rights groups, which for years have denounced the prison-like conditions in the centres.

Outer wall of immigrant detention centre in Málaga. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

“We are pleased with the closure of the Centro de Internamiento de Extranjeros (CIE – immigrant detention centre) of Málaga, and we congratulate all of the organisations that took part in the struggle to achieve this,” Mamen Castellano, president of the NGO Andalucía Acoge (Andalusía Welcomes), told IPS.

The activist, who works for the rights of immigrants in the southern Spanish region of Andalusía, where Málaga is located, mentioned the “unnecessary suffering of thousands of people who were held there.”

The CIE in Málaga was closed because of its ruinous condition – a situation that was long protested by activists.

Castellano said people should not forget “the history of sexual abuse of female inmates by police, and of fires and suicides” in the Málaga CIE, which opened in 1990 in an old
military barracks in the poor neighbourhood of Capuchinos.

The Interior Ministry had ordered that the CIE be shut down because of the “ruinous state of the installations.” Over the space of 22 years, it housed 20,000 undocumented immigrants, and gained a reputation as the most inhumane of the country’s immigrant detention centres.

Spain’s immigration law states that the CIEs are “public establishments of a non-penitentiary nature, which answer to the Interior Ministry, for the detention and custody of foreigners subject to deportation orders.”

But non-governmental organisations, experts, and even government institutions say the CIEs are “prisons in disguise.” They also complain that undocumented immigrants are held up to 40 days in worse conditions than in prisons, after they are picked up for minor offences like traffic violations.

“Regrettably, the Spanish state will continue to confine human beings and deport them from this country, making use of the other CIEs, which are still open,” Salva Lacruz, head of political advocacy of the Spanish Commission for Refugee Aid (CEAR), told IPS from the southeastern city of Valencia.

Lacruz said “the closure of a CIE is always good news.” But she lamented that the decision did not form part of “a policy to dismantle the mechanisms of repression of immigrants.”

The CEAR is involved in a campaign to close down the CIEs – “CIEsNo” – along with human rights groups, organisations that fight racism and xenophobia, and community associations. The aim is the “unconditional closure” of the centres.

All aspects of the CIEs, from security to health care and meals, are controlled by the police, who manage the centres and administer the finances. In prisons, by contrast, police only carry out security duties.

In response to the wave of criticism about the way the CIEs operate, and after the deaths of two immigrants in the Madrid and Barcelona centres, Interior Minister Jorge Fernández announced on Jan. 31 that new regulations would be drawn up for the centres.

The draft regulations for the CIEs, whose name would be changed to “Centres for the Controlled Stay of Foreigners” (CECE), have been introduced in Congress and are expected to pass easily because the governing People’s Party holds an absolute majority of seats.

But the regulations proposed by the government of right-wing Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy have disappointed immigrant advocacy organisations.

“The new regulations leave the existing system fully in place and only include tiny glimpses of what the organisations were asking for,” Castellano lamented.

She criticised the fact that the police will continue to administer the centres, rather than simply being in charge of security and leaving the rest of the task to civilian functionaries.

Castellano said the proposed regulations “legitimate the decision-making power of the director of each CIE,” rather than creating “unified standards and guaranteeing respect for human rights.”

José Cosín, a Málaga lawyer, told IPS that the draft regulations “do not respect the fundamental rights of immigrants” and “ignore the minimum requisites outlined by the ombudsman and by human rights organisations.”

He also described the change in name proposed by the government as “hypocritical”.

And like Castellano, he complained that the centres would continue to be run by the police, “even though the immigrant inmates have committed no crime to justify their detention.”

Removal of the police from the inside of the CIEs would be “an advance in terms of guarantees for the rights of the inmates,” Lacruz said.

In the last two years, the severe economic crisis that has shaken Spanish society and driven up the unemployment rate to record highs has failed to curb the arrival of immigrants.

In 2011, there were 5.7 million foreign nationals, and one million foreign-born citizens, in this southern European country of 47 million people. An estimated 700,000 immigrants are undocumented.

That year, 5,443 undocumented immigrants came to this country, according to an Interior Ministry report, “Balance de Lucha contra la Inmigración Ilegal” (summary of the struggle against illegal immigration), published in February.

The biggest surge in undocumented immigrant flows in Spain occurred in 2006, when 33,737 entered the country.

According to official figures, 30,792 immigrants were deported in 2011, 629 more than in 2010.

Cosín said the closure of the Málaga CIE “highlights the harsh conditions to which we subject immigrants in Spain,” precisely at a time when the crisis is pushing Spanish citizens to emigrate, to escape the 24 percent unemployment rate.

“The closure of the centre where rape and other human rights violations have occurred is not a step forward,” because the immigrants have been transferred over the last few weeks to the CIE in the southern city of Algeciras, “where conditions are also worse than in the prisons,” he said.

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