From Syria to Spain: Syrian Migration to Europe via the Western Mediterranean route between 2015 and 2017
For decades, Spain has served as an entry point for the irregular migration of refugees and other migrants into Europe. After arrivals peaked in 2006, when 39,180 individuals entered Spain irregularly via the Canary Islands, arrivals drastically decreased to a yearly average of 7,194 between 2007 and 2015. The year 2017, however, has witnessed a new surge in arrivals with 21,304 recorded irregular entries as of 31 October 2017. With this spike, the personal profile of people arriving has changed: while historically mostly West and North African single men travelled along the Western Mediterranean route (via Spain) to Europe, since 2015 a growing number of people from the Middle East have been using the route, the majority of whom are Syrian.
As of 31 October 2017, 8.6% of all irregular arrivals to Spain were Syrians. Syrians tend to travel to Spain via land and mostly in families: in 2017, 72% of all irregular Syrian arrivals were women and children who had travelled by land to Melilla, one of Spain’s two enclaves in North Africa (the other being Ceuta) and the main entry point into the country for Syrians.
In light of the closure of the Eastern Mediterranean route to Europe in the spring of 2016, and the sharp decrease in arrivals along the Central Mediterranean route to Italy,Spain has been considered by some as the new gateway to Europe for refugees and other migrants. However, beyond the overall increase in arrivals, the evidence base for such claims remains limited. Little is known about the reasons behind the rise in Syrian arrivals, the routes Syrians take to Spain or the protection risks they encounter along the way. Syrians who arrive in Spain are likely to have crossed countries such as Morocco and Algeria - both historically countries of destination for labour migration from Syria, but also countries which have seen a recent deterioration in living conditions for Syrians, due to changing visa requirements and a more difficult economic environment. Information about the routes taken by Syrians to Spain and the protection concerns they are exposed to along the way is crucial for a more nuanced understanding of this ‘emerging route’ into Europe, to allow humanitarian actors and policy makers to tailor their response accordingly, both in Europe, as well as in so-called transit countries, such as Morocco and Algeria. At the same time, as irregular arrivals of Syrians to Spain persist, alternatives to irregular movement, such as legal pathways to migration, are becoming available. Between 2015 and 2017, these included, among others, the EU relocation scheme and the EU resettlement programme. However, whether the experiences of the journey and the intentions for their future in Spain are different between individuals who arrived regularly or irregularly is unknown. This presents a crucial information gap, as legal pathways to Europe are often heralded as one of the key recommendations in the government response to irregular migration, yet the experiences of individuals who were able to participate in such schemes are hardly ever explored.
In this study, REACH, in collaboration with the Mixed Migration Platform (MMP), seeks to address these information gaps and explore the routes Syrians have taken into Spain between 2015 and 2017, why they chose these routes, and why they chose Spain as their entry point into Europe. Additionally, the present study seeks to examine protection concerns of Syrians along the route to Spain and to shed light on their future intentions once they reach the country.