Tighter rules lead to flourishing illegal paper trade
Stricter rules are making refugees turn to false documentation to attain political asylum.MADRID – José Alirio Colorado has been waiting two years for his application for political asylum to be processed. Earlier this month he learned that his request had been turned down, and that he will have to return to Colombia in May.
But Alirio says that he cannot return to the tiny village of Santuario, where he was mayor, after he and his family were caught up in a conflict between FARC guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries that left his brother dead, along with his bodyguard and four members of the village council.
"If I go back I'm a dead man," he says simply.
Alirio knows that 97 percent of applications for political asylum - most of them from Colombians - are turned down in Spain, but says he will appeal.
He has evidence: a small file with newspaper clippings, and even letters from the paramilitaries, one of which reads: "Greetings from our organisation... There is a limit to our patience... We give you no more than three days to leave the region, otherwise your daughters and wife will meet the same fate as your brother." It is signed by a Comandante Escobar, head of the Colombian Self-Defence Units, and dated 2004.
Alirio knows that one of the excuses given by the Spanish authorities for turning down so many asylum applications is that dossiers such as his can be bought in Colombia.
The police at Madrid's Barajas airport, along with Spain's Refugee Aid Commission (CEAR) and the UN High Commission for Refugees (ACNUR), say that organised criminals in Colombia now offer "asylum packs" for around USD 5,000.
"They introduce themselves as lawyers, or even ACNUR employees, and they sell a dossier that includes evidence of death threats from the guerrillas or the paramilitaries: letters, reports to the police, and membership of human rights organisations," says María Jesús Vega, ACNUR's spokeswoman in Spain.
"The problem is that the authorities are now even more suspicious of people applying for asylum."
Mauricio Valiente, who heads up CEAR's legal team, says that it's not only economic migrants who resort to falsifying evidence of death threats.
"The restrictive approach of the Spanish authorities makes applicants think that unless they have mountains of proof in the form of paperwork they have no chance of being given asylum. The terrible thing is that sometimes they are falsifying something that is real," he says.
Carlos Rodríguez left Colombia a year ago after local officials he says were in the pay of the paramilitaries shot him. He is confident that he will be granted asylum.
"It's clear that if I go back, I'll end up dead," he says.
When Carlos arrived in Spain, he tried to raise the alarm about the scam. "A guy I met told me about it. I tried to report it to the police because it makes me really angry that we have so many problems because of these people. But they didn't take much notice of what I had to say."
Over the two years José Alirio has been waiting for his application to be processed, he has at least been able to bring his wife and children over. "They were also threatened by the paramilitaries. I worried about them and cried every day until they finally arrived here safe and sound," he says.
Rahim Kaderi, a Kurdish refugee who has been in Spain since 1985, says that asylum policy is increasingly restrictive and unfair. "I was given asylum immediately. I was interviewed, and the only thing I presented were some letters sent by the Kurdish Democratic Party. At that time, Kurds were always given asylum. Paradoxically, although things are now much worse, I know a lot of people who have been turned down."
Kaderi says he fled Turkey after attending the funerals of dozens of friends. "You would see somebody from the party, and two hours later they would be dead." He was then 27, and is now 50.
He says that his original idea was to use Spain as a way to get into Sweden, which has a large Kurdish refugee community.
But what he calls the "solidarity" of the Spanish made him change his mind, and make a home here, where he now works as a freelance translator, having worked on the translation of the script of the movie Turtles Can Fly for the Spanish version of the movie.
He says that the authorities fail to understand how difficult it is for anybody to leave their home, pointing out that his children have never met their grandmother.
"I am still frightened - abandoning your country because you have to is a tragedy," he concludes.
[El Pais / Natallia Junquera / Madrid]