Spain struggles to accommodate thousands of young migrants

BARCELONA, Sept 7 (NNN-AGENCIES) — Spain is struggling to accommodate
thousands of young migrants who over the years have arrived alone on rickety boats or hidden in trucks, some of whom have ended up on the streets or even become involved in crime.

There are currently around 14,000 unaccompanied young migrants in Spain, according to the government, up from just around 4,000 in 2016.

In regions like Catalonia in Spain’s northeast, which has a large Moroccan
community that attracts the youngsters after they arrive in the south,
reception centres are overwhelmed.

In Barcelona, dozens sleep rough on benches, in parks or in makeshift
camps hidden in the hills that surround this Mediterranean seaside city.

“They’re damaged, many sniff glue. And they’re very vulnerable on the
street, criminal gangs take advantage and get hold of them,” said Peio Sanchez, a priest in charge of the Santa Anna church where young migrants sleep regularly.

The majority of the migrants the church tends to are no longer underage.

They were when they came to Spain, but when they turned 18 they were no
longer given protection or support.

Spain automatically gives minors a residency permit but not a work one.

They can get a work permit after five years in Spain or if they get an
annual full-time contract, which is hard to come by in a country with 32
percent unemployment among under 25s.

In Catalonia, just one percent of unaccompanied minors have a work permit when they turn 18, says Georgina Oliva, in charge of childhood matters in the regional government.

“Without this, it’s very difficult.”

Catalonia tends to 4,200 unaccompanied young migrants, a large chunk of
the total in Spain.

Despite a decrease in 2019, arrivals in the region rose tenfold between
2015 and 2018, from 350 to 3,700.

That caused punctual scenes of chaos, with some youngsters sleeping on the
ground in police stations for lack of room in reception centres.

Authorities have since opened 3,000 new places for unaccompanied minors.

“We’ve been warning about this for years but until the bubble burst,
nothing was done,” says Axel Roura of the NGO Casal dels Infants which looks for housing for homeless youngsters.

The presence of these young migrants has been sharply criticised by
Spain’s far-right which has identified them all as delinquents after some
were caught robbing tourists, at times violently.

But the Catalonia region’s Oliva maintains that over 80 percent of young
migrants have never committed any crime, and only “a very small percentage repeatedly commit crimes.”

“The huge majority wants to get training, work and send money home,” she


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