MADRID (Reuters) - Migrants from Central America are turning to former colonial master Spain as they face rejection from the United States in their attempts to escape rampant violence and poverty at home, but the streets of Madrid offer little relief.
After selling all they have to pay for flights to Europe, the migrants often end up sleeping on the streets or in doorways, without warm clothes, food or cash.
“Our baby is just two months old and we’ve run out of money ... we don’t have anywhere to stay right now,” said 40-year-old Salvadoran Nelson Delgado as he queued for the third day and night with his wife and baby outside the only migrant center in Madrid.
“It’s OK if I don’t get any benefits, just something for them to have a better future,” he said, choking on tears.
The number of asylum-seekers from Central America and Venezuela has grown notably in the past month after U.S. President Donald Trump denounced U.S.-bound migrant caravans as an “invasion” and sent troops to the border with Mexico to stop them.
But their hopes of better treatment are falling flat in Spain, which along with other European countries is already overwhelmed by a wave of migrants from north Africa and the Middle East.
Finally getting to the front of the winding migration center line only allows the migrants to book an appointment to begin the asylum process. The luckier ones get a slot in 2019, the less fortunate in 2020.
The interior ministry said it was “aware of the scale of drama” and was working to resolve the situation. The number of asylum seekers in Spain has soared 12-fold since 2010.
This year alone, almost 45,000 asylum seekers had entered the country by the end of October, according to Interior Ministry data, with the highest numbers from Venezuela, Colombia, Syria and Honduras. More than 63,000 asylum requests have yet to be resolved.
Delgado, a former bus driver, says he and his wife fled their home town of Ahuchapan on the border with Guatemala after he was briefly kidnapped and then faced threats by a criminal gang in another town where they tried to settle.
They decided to emigrate together with another family.
“There was a migrant caravan to the United States ... but we didn’t (join in). We were afraid they could deport us back to El Salvador or even separate us from our baby boy,” said Delgado.
A parish church ended up accepting Delgado and his kin. It is already providing shelter to five other families from central America. Among them is Jonathan Martinez of Venezuela and his three children who had to sleep in a doorway after a social services center kicked them out when it had no space.
The local priest, Javier Baeza, blamed the government for barring access to humanitarian programs for migrants. “These people need to be helped, it’s a human right,” he said.
Writing by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Kirsten Donovan