Spain Unveils Emergency Immigration Plan as Arrivals Jump

(Bloomberg) -- The Spanish government approved emergency measures to handle a significant increase in the number of migrants reaching the country’s southern beaches.

The administration will set up centers to process and identify migrants’ needs in their first few days, the prime minister’s office in Madrid said in a statement Sunday night. The government said it expects the trend to continue for the rest of the year.

Two months after taking office, Socialist premier Pedro Sanchez, 46, is facing criticism for stepping in to offer refuge to a migrant rescue ship, the Aquarius, after Italy’s populist government refused access to ports in Sicily.

“It’s not fair to talk about a pull effect,” the government said. “The government took decisions with the Aquarius for humanitarian reasons and to show that it’s possible to have a different kind of immigration policy in the European Union.”

Some 22,000 people have reached the Spanish coasts so far this year. That’s almost as many as in the whole of 2017 and compares with 10,500 people the previous year.

Last week more than 600 migrants entered the country from Morocco after storming the border fences surrounding the Spanish enclave of Ceuta on the North African coast. Fifteen Civil Guard officers were injured in the incident.

Immigration isn’t the big issue in Spain that it is in other Western countries such as the U.S., the U.K. or Italy. Just 3.5 percent of respondents cited the issue among their three biggest concerns in a June survey by the state pollster CIS.

All the same, Sanchez’s political rivals are focusing public attention on the immigration issue. Albert Rivera, 38, who leads the centrist party Ciudadanos, is due to visit Ceuta Monday and Pablo Casado, who heads the main opposition People’s Party plans to travel there in the coming days.

“There aren’t papers for everyone,” said Casado, 37, who won the PP leaders election just over a week ago. “It isn’t possible to absorb millions of Africans who want to come to Europe, seeking a better future.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.