Lawyers acting for nearly 500 illegal immigrants who are being kept in the new prison in Archidona while their deportation papers are being processed claimed this week that the conditions in which they are being kept are inadequate, something the Spanish government denies.
The interior ministry decided to keep the Algerians in the as yet unused prison as an emergency measure after hundreds of them arrived in Murcia and Cartagena in small boats two weeks ago.
The decision has caused an ongoing controversy, because Spanish law states that immigrants must be kept in special centres, not jails, and must not be treated as criminals. The government has defended its decision, saying that under European law it is entitled to do so if there is a lack of other facilities.
“What do you want us to do with these people? Leave them out on the street?” demanded Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido in Parliament this week, in response to criticism, and he insisted that the conditions in the jail are better than those of specialist immigrant centres.
In need of warm clothes
The Malaga Acoge organisation does not agree. Lawyer Arantxa Triguero, the president of the association, says she was able to visit a dozen of the prisoners on Monday and they complained of being cold, having no change of underwear, and being kept outside all day. Their families complained they had not been allowed to visit them, and although their mobile phones were returned to them, the authorities kept the chargers, so they were unable to speak to the outside world. Also, the lack of drinking water means that this is only available at mealtimes.
Meanwhile, the Episcopal Conference in Spain has supported complaints by the Cáritas charity about the fact that the immigrants are being kept in a jail, and the Vatican has also spoken out, saying that it is against any form of detention centre for migrants and refugees, who “should be treated as human beings”.
Around 50 people, among them relatives of the immigrants, staged a protest outside the prison on Sunday.
“Crossing the sea is no crime, they shouldn't be in prison,” said Abdelkader, the brother of one of the 500 people being held.