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‘There’s no humanity’: Syrian asylum seekers left on streets in Spain after being deported by UK

UK and EU governments accused of ‘playing games with the lives of refugees’ after asylum seekers forced to spend night on streets in Madrid hours after being removed from Britain

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Friday 04 September 2020 21:44 BST
Video footage shows Syrian asylum seekers sitting on the ground outside Madrid airport hours after being deported there by the Home Office
Video footage shows Syrian asylum seekers sitting on the ground outside Madrid airport hours after being deported there by the Home Office

A group of Syrian asylum seekers have been left on the streets of Madrid after being deported from the UK to Spain, campaigners have said.

The 11 men, all of whom recently crossed the English Channel to Britain, were forcibly removed from the UK on a charter flight on Thursday under an EU law called Dublin III, which in some circumstances enables countries to return people to other EU nations where they have already sought asylum, to register a new claim or continue their previous one.

However, when they touched down in Spain, the Spanish authorities didn’t accept responsibility for them or provide them with any support, according to welfare group SOAS Detainee Support (SDS).

In video footage seen by The Independent, one of the men films himself and other Syrian asylum seekers after arriving in Madrid. They are sitting on the ground with tarpaulin bags in broad daylight outside the airport.

The man says in Arabic: “Look what the UK did to us, they sent us back to Spain and threw us onto the streets. These are the men who have been returned. God help us. Look at us, look at these men who have been left in the street.”

The Independent understands that a small number of the men were eventually offered a place to stay on Thursday night by members of the public who had heard about their plight. The others, however, are believed to have slept in an abandoned building with no beds, or out on the street.

A separate video taken at 10:30pm on Thursday night shows a number of the men sitting on the streets with their bags. The asylum seeker filming it says: “We’ve been on the street since the morning without food and water. It’s 3 September 2020, we’re on the street.”

One of the men, who says he has an aunt and cousins in the UK, said he had refused when UK immigration guards said he was being removed to Spain, saying he had an ongoing legal case, but he was placed in handcuffs, accompanied by five officers to the airport and placed on the flight.

In a statement to SDS, the man said he and the other deportees – one of whom he said was only 17 – arrived in Madrid at around 10am and had their deportation stamped by border officials, before being “sent outside”.

“We stayed outside the airport till the evening. No food, no water, nothing. We were in the street. We were still there into the evening. Nothing changed. How can a human person stay 12, 24 hours in the street with nothing, no food no water? There’s no humanity in that,” he said.

Syrian asylum seekers were forced to spend the night on the streets in Madrid hours after UK deportation

“We didn’t all sleep in the same place. I was with four people in an abandoned house. We didn’t have beds or mattresses. No furniture, nothing. Five slept in this abandoned house, six on the street. Some people passed by those in the street and laughed and took pictures.

“The UK authorities told us the Spanish authorities would sort our stuff out for us in Spain. They said they would treat us well. No one there told us anything.”

Tom Kemp, from SOAS Detainee Support, said: “When the Home Office say they are deporting people to functioning asylum systems in Europe, they’re really saying they’ll abandon people to destitution on the streets of Madrid.

“UK and EU governments are playing games with the lives of refugees. And mutual aid groups are struggling to pick up the pieces.”

Spain’s interior ministry said anyone could request international protection in the country, both at the border and at any time during their time there.

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The Home Office said it was under “no obligation” to monitor the treatment of asylum seekers who have returned to an EU country responsible for their claim.

A spokesperson said: “Under the Dublin III process, the time and place of the arrival of [Thursday’s] flight had been carefully worked through between the UK and Spain by mutual agreement – formal requests were made of Spain in advance and they accepted responsibility for the claimants in accordance with the regulations.

“Any suggestion that the Home Office has not complied with our obligations is incorrect. A travel or identity document is not required for that country to process an individual as the details of those being returned are shared and agreed in advance.”

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