OVER 30 years since Spain first allowed women to join its Armed Forces, a female soldier has been promoted to General for the first time in the country's history. Patricia Ortega, 56, from Madrid, was due to have...
Refugees like Lia: Spain's aid commission reveals the facts
By thinkSPAIN Team Sun, Jul 7, 2019
ACCORDING to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), over 70 million people worldwide have been forced to flee their homes due to war, political unrest, persecution, extreme poverty, or serious breaches of their human rights; the Spanish Commission for Refugee Assistance (CEAR) puts the figure at over 68.5 million. Either way, that's between one in every 106 and one in every 109 people on earth. So, if you live in a town of, say, 30,000 inhabitants, that's between 275 and 283 of your neighbours. It's 7,075 people in Valencia, 14,151 in Madrid and nearly 440,000 in Spain. Statistically, according to the UK Refugee Council, 85% of asylum seekers are based in the world's poorest countries, since the vast majority run to the very next nation to their own.
Others head to countries with a common language, because they know their stay will probably be long-term, maybe many years, and they need to be somewhere they can make a normal life for themselves. Some simply head for neutral territory and are sent off in 'batches' to other countries, meaning they do not choose their destination, but in most cases, they don't care as long as they're safe.
At present, Spain's largest national group among its asylum seekers are Venezuelan – 19,280, according to the CEAR's most recent figures – followed by Colombians (8,650) and Syrians (2,775), with between around 2,000 and 2,500 each from Hondurás, El Salvador, Ukraine and Palestine, in descending order. A further 1,200 to 1,300 come from Nicaragua, Morocco and Algeria.
Why they flee
Although these countries may, in some cases, be relatively 'safe', at least in parts, it depends upon what refugees are running away from. As an example, lesbian, gay and bisexual asylum seekers are constantly being forced to flee up to 72 countries worldwide – in eight of which they would even face the death penalty – whereas if they were heterosexual, they may have no need to leave home at all, the CEAR explains.
The same applies with transsexuals – between 2008 and 2016, according to the CEAR, over 2,200 transsexuals were murdered purely because of their gender identity.
John from Colombia was shot for being transsexual, and his own father held a gun to his head when he pleaded him for help; Ovil, from Bangladesh, was facing probable death for the same reason unless she escaped to a country where transsexuality is not a crime.
Brunei has recently announced a death penalty for homosexuals and bisexuals, and in Uganda, it is not only illegal to be either (practising or not), but if you suspect someone may be and do not report them to the authorities, you can face prison.
Somalia, Sudan, Gambia, Ghana, the United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are among the most dangerous countries to be homosexual.
Alexandra, from Hondurás, for example, had to get out of the country fast because she was at risk of extreme violence in response to her having been fighting for lesbians' basic rights.
Also, some countries which are perfectly safe for men are dangerous places for women. Emily, rescued by the Aquarius which docked in Valencia a year ago, fled Nigeria due to domestic violence and set sail on a toy-boat from Libya. The majority of her fellow passengers drowned en route. Sadaf and Shabnam, sisters from Afghanistan, were facing death to silence them in their fight against forced marriage, and could have been murdered if they, too, had refused to marry. Nahid suffered violent racism in her home country, Iran, because of her Iraqi roots, and could not go to Iraq because of the ongoing conflict, so she sailed to Greece on a jerry-built raft. Adama, 18, from Gambia (third picture), had to escape to avoid becoming a victim of female genital mutilation – and spent three years crossing five countries.
Who they are
Contrary to popular misconception – that asylum seekers are 'normally young, fit men' – in Spain, male migrants hoping for refugee status make up 57%, a majority but not a significant one. They number 31,010, according to the CEAR, whilst women number 23,055, or 43% - but the Commission does not break down the total by ages, meaning a proportion of both the males and the females will be children, some of whom would have arrived unaccompanied by adults.
Members of the public are often confused as to why a person may become a refugee from a country that is apparently safe enough for westerners to go on package holidays. But the reality for residents, especially with family and jobs, can be very different to that of a tourist who will mainly be kept to safe areas – Renzo fled Perú as a teenager when his entire neighbourhood and even his school were attacked by firebombs and violent thugs repeatedly because of his being gay. Juan José, a lawyer, fell foul of a dangerous drug cartel through his job, and would not have been safe anywhere in his native México.
Many refugees would ideally like to go home if ever their countries became safe again. Ali, 38, from the Central African Republic (CAR), had a good, well-paid job as a trade inspector and had been working in his profession for eight years when his home nation suffered a coup d'état, forcing him and his family to leave with whatever they could carry in their bare hands. Lina, 43, from Syria, said she 'did everything she could' to avoid having to leave her country, right up until the bombs started going off in the same street as her house and her children's school – but if Syria, once a popular international holiday destination, ever sees peace again, she wants to return for good.
And as super-student Lia shows, not all refugees come from developing or third-world countries. Olga, too, is from Ukraine, a wealthy European nation. She worked as a civil servant and was expecting to be in a job for life on a good wage with a healthy pension fund awaiting her - but once Donetsk turned into a battleground, she knew she would soon have to leave, and almost certainly with nothing more than she could pack into a bag.
“When a bomb landed on my house, we had to sleep outside in temperatures of -23ºC,” Olga reveals.
The CEAR has recorded testimonials from all these refugees described above, and many more besides. Behind every asylum seeker, the Commission says, is a unique and individual story, and often one that started with a comfortable life, a well-paid profession, a nice home and few real cares, but which suddenly came undone and left the protagonist of that individual story with nothing, fighting for food and shelter, sick, weak and frightened, where his or her sole aim was mere survival.
First photograph: By UNICEF, showing Syrian refugee children in a camp in Greece
Second photograph: An Iraqi family is all smiles upon their arrival in Spain after months in a refugee camp
Third photograph: By the CEAR, Adama, 18, from Gambia, spent three years crossing five countries to escape female genital mutilation
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