The United Nations has warned Spain that the country is contravening international law with its plans to instantly deport migrants from North Africa.
“UNHCR is concerned over a proposal by Spain to legalise automatic returns of people trying to cross border fences into its enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla,” said the UN refugee agency’s spokesman, William Spindler.
“On the spot deportations could however fall foul of the 1951 Refugee Convention, an international treaty protecting people who flee their homelands.”
“UNHCR stresses the importance of permitting access to territory to seek international protection,” he said.
Since 2013 the two Spanish cities, Ceuta and Melilla, which border Morocco, have seen an increased number of migrants attempting to jump over fences and walls to get into the European territory.
And although the Spanish government would like to include an amendment in the convention to immediately return the migrants, opposition parties are criticising the move.
“When people reach Spanish territory, their right to ask for asylum has to be respected in the same way whether they come via Melilla or Madrid’s Barajas airport,” said Trinidad Jiménez, foreign affairs spokesperson for PSOE, Spain’s largest opposition party.
Spindler said that around two thirds of those trying to cross the 7 metre (23 foot), triple-layer border fence were from countries torn by war, violence and persecution, including Syria, Central Africa Republic and Mali.
In 2013, around 4,200 people arrived on Spanish territory illegally by land and sea and so far this year the number has risen to over 5,000 people, 70 per cent of whom are women and children.