OVER 5,000 people took to the streets of Madrid last night (Wednesday) in protest over the EU's proposed refugee deal with Turkey.
The agreement would involve returning refugees and migrants in batches either to Turkey or to their original country, and for each one sent back, another from a refugee camp in Turkey would be settled in Europe.
Demonstrators filled Madrid's central Puerta del Sol square carrying banners reading 'No to illegal and immoral agreements' and 'rights for refugees and migrants'.
They criticised the EU selling arms to the Middle East and then refusing to take in refugees from wars caused by those same arms.
One banner showed a Syrian couple being pushed back by a giant hand with the EU flag on its cuff, whilst a knife labelled I.S. for 'Islamic State' poked their backs.
Another, in English, read: “We sell boms. (sic). Their victims escape.”
Others read: “No human being is illegal,” and “People should not be traded like currency.”
Around 2,000 protesters joined in from cities in the centre-northern region of Castilla y León, whilst dozens of residents gathered outside the Aragón regional government headquarters in Zaragoza, and hundreds of Basque resident staged a march calling for the EU to 'open its walls'.
More than 120 different organisations, including unions, worked on putting together the demonstrations, and slogans even accused the EU of 'not respecting human rights', of treating people like 'merchandise' and calling the 28 member States 'criminally liable'.
“Welcome, 18 refugees – hypocrites!” read one sign held up, and others stated: “No wars, no borders;” “European Union, inhuman, is against refugees;” “European Union, we sell weapons and throw out their victims;” “These are people, not goods for sale;” and “EU against human rights.”
The Madrid protest was presided by Palestinian refugee Ahmed Abuzubaida, who called the agreement between the EU and Turkey 'insensitive', whilst urging the EU to stop selling weapons to countries which did not respect human rights, and to open legal and safe channels for those fleeing the wars in Syria and Iraq.
Singer and activist Cristina del Valle read out a manifesto in which she called the EU-Turkey deal 'shameful' and stated that it violated the Charter of Human Rights – both the European and the International versions – as well as the Geneva Convention on Asylum Seekers and Refugees, which dates back to 1955 and has been signed by nearly every country in the world.
“They want to treat war victims as currency exchange with the Turkish government, move the refugee crisis outside Europe's borders, and abandon the values that make up the EU – a common area of freedom, safety and justice,” Sra Del Valle read.
She said the Turkish deal would open the door to asylum seekers being returned at the border.
This is a practice Spain has long been against, says federal coordinator for United Left, Cayo Lara, who urged the acting government to exercise its right to veto in the Council of Europe because “we cannot feed approaches which lead to racism and xenophobia.”
Current Parliamentary spokesman for United Left, Alberto Garzón, admitted the EU's attitude to refugees 'deeply disgusted' him.
“They're behaving like Nazis – classist, xenophobic, and against people who are fleeing from wars,” he condemned.
Meanwhile, secretary for immigration in the PSOE, Eva Matarí, praised the public for going out onto the street to tell their government that Spanish society was 'categorically against' European policies on refugees.
Civil society relations officer for left-wing Podemos, Rafael Mayoral, said Spain was 'clearly and strongly against' returning migrants at the border, and calls for the acting government to comply with this overriding feeling.
New secretary-general for one of Spain's main two unions, Josep María Álvarez, says he and the General Workers' Union (UGT) as a whole consider the refugee situation to be 'totally shameful' and 'in breach of all the EU's treaties', and pointed out that the deal on the table does not even guarantee shelter and food for refugees sent back to Turkey.
His colleague on the labourers' commission (CCOO) Ignacio Fernández Toxo, called for Spain's caretaking government to 'go along with the majority feeling' of people in Spain, which 'is not racist, not xenophobic, but compassionate'.
Charities, including Médicos del Mundo ('Doctors of the World') and Doctors Without Borders joined the mass demonstrations.
They were planned to coincide with acting president Mariano Rajoy's visit to Brussels for the refugee summit, in which he has bowed to pressure from his own cabinet and every single MP in opposition to reject the deal.
Spain's veto could be enough to stop the deal going through.