Afghan refugees in Spain: two thirds are still in the reception system and their biggest problem is housing

One year after the arrival of thousands of Afghan refugees in Spain, after the arrival of the Taliban regime in the country, the main organisations dealing with their integration make a positive assessment of the reception process in which two thirds of the Afghans are still immersed, citizens who landed at the Torrejón aerodrome (Madrid) in August 2021. Most of them, as the entities have pointed out, have their greatest difficulty in accessing housing.

Both Accem and the Spanish Committee for Refugee Aid (CEAR) have highlighted Spain’s “rapid” action in the face of events and the Government’s reaction in terms of response and agility in managing international protection applications required by the evacuated Afghans.

“They were given a preferential way to request protection,” highlighted CEAR’s Director of Policies and Campaigns, Paloma Favieres, who also highlighted the “swift resolution” that the Asylum and Refuge Office (OAR) made.

The general director of the Reception System, Amapola Blasco, has highlighted the work of the Government a year ago and points out, mainly, two moments. The first, in which they were asked to prepare for the arrival of refugees and which was practically from one day to the next. “They told me on a Friday and told me that the arrival could be on Saturday, Sunday or Monday,” she recalled.

The main handicap that the team had was that they knew “nothing” about the passengers, “neither how many, nor who, nor if there were family nuclei”, Blasco explained that, as she pointed out, from the first flight everything was much more dynamic because “it was learning from experience”.

Thus, on the fly they decided to expand the area for children that, at first, they had designed smaller or the division of the first reception areas was improved. “Mainly we were improving logistics issues and learning with each flight”, explained Blasco, who recalled that, finally, the system worked to the point that no one stayed more than 48 hours in the reception device at the aerodrome.

And, although this reception was an extraordinary situation due to its circumstances, the director of the Reception System has recognised that this work could not have been done without “the resettlement experience” of people that the Executive already has, especially with people from the Lebanon or Jordan.

Apprenticeship for the arrival of Ukrainians

As to whether this action set a precedent in subsequent situations, such as the reception of displaced persons due to the war in Ukraine from March 2022, Maite Bueno, from the Accem reception area, explained that, with the Afghans, it was shown that “the system has the capacity to react” and that, although “it is important” not to have to “operate by reaction”, it has been determined that “it can be done”.

For her part, Amapola Blasco explained that, with the Afghans, “the importance of documentation” was verified, which was later given to the displaced from Ukraine. “We learned that it is better for them to be documented as soon as possible. If not, they may have many difficulties in accessing resources”, she has indicated.

Many of the Afghans who arrived, according to Blasco, did not have a passport, because “many people don’t get one” or because “they are young people or children.” These people were the ones who presented the greatest difficulties in advancing in the reception system. For this reason, the general director pointed out, she put so much effort into that point when the displaced Ukrainians arrived.

“In this sense, I also conveyed to the minister the importance of creating reception centres,” said Blasco, who has pointed to the launch of the Reception, Attention and Referral Centres (CREADE) that were opened in different cities of Spain.

3,900 Afghans evacuated

In total, since the first evacuation flight, on August 15, 2021, the Government has carried out three operations (Antígona I, II and III) that have allowed the transfer of 2,561 people a year ago and, together with the that arrived on July 21 and those last week would exceed 3,900.

The Government highlight that, among the people evacuated are former direct collaborators of the country, civilian collaborators from EU and NATO countries and diplomatic personnel, whose lives were at risk after the reinstatement of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

The Ministry of Inclusion, Migration and Social Security, for its part, puts the number of Afghan refugees who entered the reception system at 1,900, as a result of the flights that arrived a year ago. In addition, they have welcomed more than 350 more refugees belonging to two flights: one in April and the other on August 10.

Precisely, the conflict in Ukraine is being one of the main concerns of the refugees who have been in the country for a year and who, as the NGOs have explained, see how the focus of attention has been diverted. Not of their situation, as the organisations have pointed out, but of the family reunification measures or the transfer of relatives who remained in Afghanistan or who fled to third countries.

“It is important to focus on the fact that many relatives of the people evacuated in August continue to need protection and it is necessary that the internal focus on them is not lost,” explained Bueno, who recalled the psychological work that is done with the refugees in this sense.

Access to housing

Bueno explained that those who did not enter or left (about 700) are, for the most part, people who chose to travel to other countries, “mainly Germany”, because there they had family or friendship networks with other people.

For his part, the person in charge of the temporary reception area of ​​Accem, Héctor Pérez, has assured that there is no record of refugees who were in the system who have returned to their country of origin.

Regarding the stay of refugees in the Spanish system, both Accem and CEAR respond with positive qualifications. “Objectives are being met,” Bueno acknowledged, while CEAR’s reception coordinator, Áliva Díez, pointed out ” the basic needs were covered well and quickly.” However, they also point out some of its weaknesses which, as they have indicated, can be learned from and improved upon.

The main one that both entities have pointed out is access to housing. Specifically, they point to it as one of the biggest impediments to the inclusion of these people in Spanish society and also in their goal of achieving “an autonomous life.”

“The price of housing, the post-Covid impact of the market, has affected them “, acknowledged Díez, who explained that this has led many families to suffer “a delay in the usual process” that is foreseen in a process of inclusion. This also influences the active job search process, as the Accem representative recalled, who insisted: “in housing there is still a long way to go”.

In this sense, they have also spoken of the “contractual difficulties” that these people may suffer, as well as the consequences of not being able to access a home in a neighbourhood that they already knew and that, in Bueno’s opinion, could be a blow to their expectations.

The entities also speak of language difficulties that, as they have indicated, in the case of qualified men or those who already worked with the Spanish administrations in Afghanistan, it is easier, but in others, it is being slower. In this sense, CEAR has focused on the case of women who usually have less education and, mainly, those who have arrived in the country with a large number of children and whose insertion outside the home is more difficult.

Finally, Accem has called for continuing to focus on the psychological part of these people, especially those who are still unaware of the situation of their relatives.