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Barcelona, Spain

Status: Good Neighbours

Ajuntament de Barcelona

June 14, 2018

Universal access to city services starts with the civil register.

“It does not make sense that persons are left in the streets of Barcelona by the State without any document, jeopardizing their future and the cohesion of the city. Every body should at least have a temporary resident permit.” Former Mayor of Barcelona, Xavier Trias

In 2015, the city of Barcelona officially implemented the policy behind this sentiment. The city encouraged all undocumented residents to sign up for the municipal register, and provided free access to the public health system.

Registering gives irregular migrants the status of Neighbour. They gain access to all local services, including sports, public facilities, libraries schools, free language, emergency social services and health. Among the measures Barcelona already had in place were funding for free legal support to migrants for regularizing their status, provided through NGOs that also ensure distribution of information: on how to obtain a health card, for instance, and access to the health system. Advice is also provided on recognition of qualifications and accessing the job market.

The municipal register, known as padrón, enables all residents, whatever their status, to have access to all local services and to the public health system provided by the Catalán Region. Even residents who have difficulty demonstrating where they live, or have no fixed address, are eligible to register. In order to create trust with irregular migrants, the register is protected. Police access is restricted. The register gives the city more accurate data about residents to help plan services accordingly.

The city has gone further. In 2017 Barcelona published a comprehensive Action Plan to address the social condition of irregular migrants in the city. Its first goal is to ensure universal access to municipal public services. The Plan reinforced the importance of registration in the local padro?n. Barcelona created a service hub for migrants, open to all, including refugees and asylum-seekers. Services include free legal advice, city orientation, and help with emergencies. A network of 120 community service organizations and non-profits collaborate with the city to deliver information and services to the migrants.

Awareness among migrants and local service providers is important. The Action Plan includes a leaflet in seven languages on the importance of the register; and establishes information sessions for service professionals whose job brings them into contact with irregular migrants.

Accountability is also important. Barcelona has posted posters in hospital emergency rooms informing the public that everyone has the right to free emergency room services, and that no one should be billed for care. A local committee examines specific cases where individuals are inappropriately billed.

Jaume Asens, Barcelona Deputy Mayor on Citizenship, Participation and Transparency, recently outlined the case behind regularization in the city:  “Barcelona is very committed to grant access to public health services to all citizens, especially those residents with an irregular status. Barcelona will protect all our neighbours including those that happen to be in an irregular situation, because above all, they are our citizens and neighbours, and deserve protection as human beings. Our aim is to facilitate regularization as the right path to integration.”

Because irregular migrants were typically unable to access city services and employment, both their financial and housing situations were precarious. Barcelona saw the growth of “settlements”: occupation of spaces in factories or abandoned buildings. They were typically poor housing structures, such as shacks, caravans, or lorries maintained over time and used as a place of continuous residence by groups of people, including families. City officials regarded this occupation or overcrowding a health hazard.

The city created the Office of the Irregular Settlement Plan (OPAI) to manage the phenomenon of settlements in the city, offering alternatives to the vulnerable people living in them. The goal was to give them decent living conditions and fight against social exclusion, irrespective of their origins and legal status. OPAI coordinated the work of city and community partners to address the precarious housing situation among migrants.

As a result of their efforts, migrants in the city’s largest settlement, Calle Puigcerdà, were moved to permanent accommodation. They were also provided with legal advice, skills training, literacy and language courses, and job placement help. Overall, the number of people living in settlements in Barcelona decreased by almost 40%.

Barcelona created a committee to monitor irregular migrants’ access to services, to assess the effectiveness of their Action Plan. A goal is to influence the adoption of inclusive policies at the national and EU level.

Barcelona’s Action Plan makes it clear that the city is taking the lead. But it is not alone. In 2014, Barcelona hosted the first Mayoral Forum on Migration, Mobility and Development. Mayors adopted the Barcelona Declaration, calling on authorities to provide the same rights, duties and opportunities to everyone residing in their territory, including irregular migrants: “The clear message that this Forum conveyed was the need to persuade central Governments and international organizations that they must listen to what cities have to say. Cities must be included in decision-making processes. They are the engines of migration and the ones who manage a great deal of its impact; so they know the complexity of the situation better than anyone. In a multilevel governance situation, cities must take the lead on governing migration and mobility.”

Making it Work for You:

  • Precarious status leads to a precarious existence, which threatens not only those without papers or with irregular status, but also those in their surrounding communities.  What happend when you apply this lens to your city? or to your institution, workplace or neighbourhood?
  • City leadership on the safety, dignity and rights of all residents starts with policy but needs the authority of mayoral voice and council support to ensure effective implementation and accountability.
  • A city can lead by ensuring that its most precarious residents have access to the help they need to become stable, even if their national immigration status is not.
  • As public institutions, cities must ensure its policies are communicated to and understood by its administration and service providers. It is essential that all city actors understand what the rights of precarious residents are and are accountable to upholding those rights.
  • Settlement and integration is local.  Cities must continue to advocate for a voice at regional and national planning tables on issues of immigration and settlement/integration. Local authorities are most familiar with what the needs of their residents are, and are best placed to interpret those needs and will be most impacted if those needs are not met.

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