Barcelona refugee centre opens with a "Come back tomorrow"

Hundreds of Ukrainians can't process documents after Ministry of Inclusion opens service before it is ready

3 min
A Ukrainian woman looking through the half-closed door of the Fair pavilion where the refugee reception center has been set up.

BarcelonaThe centre for the reception of refugees that the Spanish Ministry of Inclusion set up in one of the pavilions at Fira de Barcelona opened this Friday at half throttle. Users are required to get an appointment over the telephone in advance, but the line to request an appointment won't be up until tomorrow. in addition, the staff to process temporary protection documents for Ukrainians fleeing the war was not yet ready. "We have many questions and few answers," laments Alexandra, who does not want to give her last name, and who has come all the way to Montjuic to find out "what is the next step" she has to take. She arrived in Barcelona with her sister and three underage nephews and is staying with a daughter who lives in Barcelona. She explains that for days she has also been trying to contact the police, but that, like this Friday, she has had no luck either because there are no free appointments "until who knows when".

Hundreds of Ukrainians started queuing outside the Fira at 5 am, hoping yo get their paperwork. In fact, a few days ago the Minister of Inclusion, José Luis Escrivá, surprised the Generalitat and the City Council of Barcelona when he announced the opening of the centre. The area to take ID photographs was still being set up, and neither the police officers nor the officials of the Ministry of Inclusion, who have to decide on applications, were there. As a result of the inoperability, Barcelona councillor Jordi Martí trusted that the Spanish government and its delegation in Catalonia "allocate the necessary resources so that this can be solved immediately".

Inside the pavilion Red Cross staff and volunteers attended Ukrainians recently arrived in the city, and they sent them to hotels if they did not have anywhere to stay. The centre has no beds to spend the night, but there are 200 places to rest while waiting to be attended to or to carry out procedures, which are not expected to take more than two hours. There is also a space reserved for a dining room, playroom and infirmary.

The councillor said that the City Council and the Fira have facilitated the use of the space where the legal situation of the refugees is processed, but that its management is "in the hands of the Spanish government, and they are the ones who have to improve it to avoid what happened".

The Red Cross also offers psychological help because Ukrainians suffer a lot of stress and anxiety. One of the volunteers explains that there is a demand for psychologists for the children, who have experienced the bombings close up and who in Barcelona are frightened by ambulance sirens or the noise of the rubbish trucks. In addition, many arrive having read "false information and rumours on Facebook", which make them wary of giving their passports because they believe that they will not be able to return to Ukraine "ever again".

Stories of fleeing the war are repeated by all refugees, as are attempts to obtain official information. Phones that communicate, unanswered emails and even police stations where "they don't know what to do with the refugees," Vira explains, who does not want to be identified either. So she went to Montjuic with her two children, aged six and one and a half, but was also asked to come back tomorrow. "We had already been told to be patient, that bureaucracy in Spain is slow," she says with a wry smile, and quickly adds that she feels very welcome. She left Kiev the day the war started, on February 24, and drove to Poland, where she explains that she left her car with the hope that her husband will be able to use it when he leaves the country

A translator briefing a group of Ukrainians outside the Fira de Barcelona refugee centre.

Outside the centre, dozens of Ukrainians gather around the translators, who give out the information available. It is not much because, as Anna Palivoda admits, they only know that today only emergency cases will be attended. This 22-year-old girl, in fact, had come as a user, but when she said she spoke perfect Spanish, she was recruited as a volunteer and is already wearing a hi-vis vest.

In a statement, the Ministry of Inclusion explains that the centre will be open 24 hours a day, every day of the week, but that, in terms of procedures, it will only be operational from 8 am to 8 pm, so the rest of the time it will only attend urgent cases. "Tomorrow at 8 a.m. we will call to see if we are lucky and get onto the line," says Vira.