Spain's Open Attitude Towards Syrian Refugees

By Jacob Kind

In 2018, 84,345 documented Syrian refugees entered Europe from the Mediterranean Sea. [1] With Greece and Italy barring many Syrian refugees from entering their countries, Spain has taken on the responsibility of accepting more Syrian refugees from boats coming from the Sea. As a result, Spain has increased its intake of Syrian refugees by 300%, accepting 38,451 documented Syrian refugees from the Mediterranean. [2] These numbers do not include Syrian refugees who arrived in Spain through other transportation means as well as undocumented refugees.

Despite the increase in refugees, Spain’s popular and political attitudes toward refugees have continued to be welcoming. Backlash against refugees in the country has remained limited. In all of Europe, Spain boasts the lowest levels of concern for refugees and the consequences of such immigration. Only 40% of Spanish people believe refugees will increase the likelihood of terrorism in Spain. [3] The median percentile for Europeans of a certain country believing refugees will increase the likelihood of terrorism in their country is 59%. [4] Thus, Spanish sentiments toward refugees have remained mostly welcoming, with Spanish citizens offering a more inclusive environment to Syrians than some other European nations such as Hungary and Poland.

 From a political perspective, the Spanish government seems to be just as welcoming in its policies and rhetoric. Spain increased their acceptance of Syrian refugees by boat when Greece and Italy turned those boats away. Moreover, Josep Borell, the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs and former president of the European Parliament, even went so far as to say that Europe is “trivializing the word ‘mass’”, arguing at the beginning of the year that Spain had only taken in “about 20,000 migrants…for a country of more than 40 million inhabitants.” [5] He also called for more aid towards Middle Eastern countries such as Jordan and Lebanon, which deal with mass, as well as increased levels of refugee quotas in both Spain and its neighboring nations.

 Thus, Spain’s popular opinions and official statements seem to call for an increased participation level for all of Europe in regards to the Syrian refugee crisis. Spain has stepped up to lead the way in 2018, but only time will tell if such policies and public sentiments will create lasting effects in the coming months and years. Deaths on the Mediterranean from boat travel have not decreased since Spain has taken up such a role in accepting refugees. [6] For all the positive attitudes and rhetoric on Syrian refugees, Spain needs to also increase its focus on the missions in the Mediterranean, allowing those refugees who are said to be welcomed to actually safely traverse to the nation.

Jacob Kind is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is majoring in International Relations with minors in Arabic and Creative Writing. He is also pursuing a Graduate Certificate in Global Human Rights.

[1] International Organization for Migration, “Mediterranean Update,” (October 2018), p. 1-7.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Jacob Poushter, “European opinions of the refugee crisis in 5 charts,” (Pew Research, September 2016).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Sam Jones, “Donald Trump urged Spain to ‘build the wall’ – across the Sahara,” (The Guardian, September 2018).

[6] International Organization for Migration, “Mediterranean Update,” (October 2018), p. 1-7.

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