Madrid protesters demand Spain take in more refugees

Thousands protest in the Spanish capital, urging their government to fulfil its commitment and accept more refugees.

    Several thousand people have marched in Spain's capital, Madrid, to demand that the government immediately honours its pledge to take in more than 17,000 refugees as part of a European relocation plan.

    The crowds chanted, "No human being is illegal", as they walked in scorching heat, past clothes shops in central Madrid, holding banners that read, "Open the borders", "Bridges, not walls" and "Enough with excuses, no more barriers".

    Saturday's protest, organised by dozens of NGOs, including UK-based rights group Amnesty International, comes just a few days before World Refugee Day on Tuesday.

    Organisers, quoted by local media, said some 8,000 people attended the demonstration.

    The protest also comes as the deadline nears to relocate 160,000 refugees across Europe under a solidarity plan put in place in 2015 to try to remedy the continent's biggest-ever refugee crisis and ease the burden on front-line states Italy and Greece.

    However, by the start of June, fewer than 20,000 refugees had been relocated.

    Spain, which had pledged to take in more than 17,300, has so far only welcomed just over 1,300, according to Amnesty.

    "Spain is doing absolutely nothing of what it should be doing, it's a disgrace for Spain and Europe," Carlos Diez, a 55-year-old secondary school teacher at the protest, told the AFP news agency.

    Estrella Moran, secretary-general of the Spain Commission for Refugee Assistance (CEAR), said the period for the first arrivals ends next month, while the second period will be over on September 26.

    "At the moment only 7.5 percent of these persons have been accommodated," Moran told the Associated Press news agency. "There are people in Greece that are living in inhumane conditions and unhealthy situations, there are people in Turkey, in Lebanon and Palestine that deserve that we give them a start in a new life."

    'I wanted to change my life'

    Also at the march was Christian Lele, a 27-year-old from Cameroon who entered Spain without documents in 2014 by climbing over a border fence in Melilla, a tiny Spanish enclave in the northeast of Morocco.

    "I wanted to study, change my life, help my family … You can't live well (in Cameroon) with the little they pay you," he told AFP.

    IN PICTURES: Scaling the fence at Spain's African 'fortress'

    Lele got to Morocco a year after he left his country, by hitching rides across the continent.

    Once in Melilla, he was eventually taken to a refugee reception centre in Malaga in southern Spain, and was transferred to several others across the country before he got to Madrid.

    He trained as a gardener, which is now his job in the Spanish capital. He also said he was on the march in "solidarity" with others who would follow in his footsteps.

    In February, at least 160,000 people marched in Barcelona to demand the Spanish government fulfil its commitment on refugees.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies


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