14ymedio, Havana, 5 March 2023 — Since her arrival in Spain three months ago, Irene, a 26-year-old journalist who participated in the 11J [11 July 2021] protests in Santa Clara, tries in vain to process her asylum request from Burgos, Spain. The Spanish Government’s website — the only way to be served in the Immigration offices — has been down for weeks due to applications, and it notifies the user that there are no available appointments. Concerned, Irene phoned the police in her city, said she was Cuban and explained her situation. The answer left her stunned: “The system is overwhelmed because the Cubans themselves make an appointment and then sell it to other migrants.”
The officer commented that the collapse of the system has been taking place for a long time, with the avalanche of Cubans and Venezuelans who arrive. In addition, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused hundreds of thousands of citizens of that country to flee the conflict to countries of the European Union, including Spain.
When someone enters the electronic headquarters of the Spanish Public Administration and requests access to the asylum procedure, an alarm goes off: “At the moment there are no appointments available. The office will make new appointments available to you shortly.”
“The new appointments never arrive, it doesn’t matter if one accesses the site later in the morning or at dawn, on Mondays or in the middle of the week,” Irene complains.
For the journalist, it was a surprise to know that Cubans had managed to export the “tricks” from the Island to Europe. “Worse for you,” says the Immigration officer, with an angry tone, “because if the most harmed are those who make a business of this, it will go worse for them.” According to the agent, the “resellers” managed to get the appointments as soon as they are released, usually on Monday, and in a few minutes they take all the appointments.
“And it’s not a local situation,” clarifies the Burgos officer. “The appointments are offered by the Government, in Madrid, and to get one, you have to go online.”
As the months go by and the exodus from Cuba is exacerbated, European governments find it increasingly difficult to regulate the situation of the wave of migrants arriving not only from Cuba, but also from Venezuela and other Latin American and African countries. Corruption, bribery and having a “godfather” in Immigration are becoming frequent methods to initiate asylum processing.
“The bureaucracy is very similar to the one there,” says Ivan, a 35-year-old barber who arrived in Spain from Russia after a long journey through different European countries, before the war broke out. “In Madrid, the procedure is usually faster,” he says.
“When I started the process, there was no way to get an appointment. I tried all the time and always got the same message. Then I got desperate and went to the Asylum and Refuge Office on Pradillo Street,” says Enrique. “The officer who attended me told me to keep trying and if I couldn’t succeed, to take screenshots of the denial on the website and return to Immigration after a month.”
The situation exhausted the patience of the young man, who ended up turning to a lawyer who said he had a “contact” who could help. “Legal or not, I solved the problem,” says Enrique, who has not yet been granted international protection but now is happy to be “in the system,” waiting for the call for the next step in the process.
“I was coming to stay,” Juan José, an artist close to Cuba’s San Isidro Movement and a participant in the 11J [11 July 2021] demonstrations in Central Havana, explains to 14ymedio. “My visa was valid for very few days. I arrived in December 2022 and from the first day started looking for appointments.”
Juan José, who began his process in Ávila, also in the community of Castilla y León, spent all January without getting Immigration to receive him. “My life and my work allowed me to argue the reasons for the asylum request; in that sense I thought I had no problem,” he says. When he managed to be assisted, the policeman who interviewed him made him wait excessively and did not treat him well. “I don’t know if mistreatment is the word, but it wasn’t good treatment.”
When he delivered his documents, they scheduled a second appointment for him — where he had to orally explain the reasons for his request — and he had to wait twelve months, without a work permit. “I almost threw in the towel,” he says, until a Cuban friend recommended that he do the processing at a police station in Madrid, where they work faster than in the provinces.
“The Immigration officers asked me what the 11J, the San Isidro Movement and the 27N [27 November] were, which I mentioned in my interview. They knew very little about the real Cuba,” he says. On June 1, Juan José, who now has advice from the Spanish Commission for Refugee Assistance, will receive an update on his immigration status.
As long as the wait lasts, the Spanish State must guarantee his access to free public health and his safe stay in Spanish territory, without risk of deportation.
Translated by Regina Anavy
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