Article by Miriam Najibi, El Salto diario, August 27, 2023

“Here we work in all areas related to people,” says Jokin Revilla, a member of Ongi Etorri Errefuxiatuak (OEE) in Bilbao. This social platform dedicated to the defense of migrants and refugees emerged in 2016 in the face of the migration crisis that occurred with the war in Syria and the overcrowding situations in Greek camps. From then until now its objectives have not changed: “To denounce the causes that cause forced migration as well as the policy of violation of the rights of the states and to offer a welcoming of people in a dignified way”. This is how Luisa Menéndez, also a militant in OEE, lists it. The last of the purposes—”what people find when they arrive”—is the one that demands the most effort from the organization.

“We interact with other entities and associations, but we do not depend on any institution or subsidies,” says Menéndez. Even the place located on Calle Pelota in the Old Town of Bilbao is approached by people who “generally”, he says, “have already gone through all the services”. When a person arrives at the OEE space, sometimes their last resort, it is revealed, again and again, the lack of protection to which they are subjected before the passivity and abandonment of functions of the public institutions of Euskadi and Nafarroa.

There, in its premises, the advice offered by OEE is oriented, among other matters, towards access to schooling for minors, bureaucratic procedures with Lanbide or procedures in Osakidetza. Now, the “gateway” – as defined by both militants – to do all these paperwork is the muncipal register called “padrón” (1). They recommend, first, to go through the Municipal Social Emergency Service (better known by its acronym, SMUS), located on Uribitarte Street. The activities associated with this service are emergency social care in the form of reception and direct intervention. In addition, by requesting the food card, people in emergency situations record the time they have been in the city. Although it is necessary to go to this service, Jokin Revilla describes it as “far from complying with a diagnosis and assessment service”. This member of OEE argues that “there should be municipal staff, but we work from subcontractors.” From his experience, he points out that they prohibit the entry of people who are accompanied, which, he adds, “is illegal because they cannot express themselves.”

The platform is developing a campaign, inspired by another undertaken by Catalan groups, in which the right to social register is demanded in a municipal domicile. “In this process of receiving people, we are touching the limits of welfare, but, in reality, it is to meet the needs of the people and we do nothing without then having it reflected under the form of denunciation in the street,” they conclude from OEE.

Artea and Irun as an example

Parallel to the creation of Ongi Etorri Errefuxiatuak, the Artea Network, located in the valley of Arratia (Bizkaia), is “a solidarity network of shelters and small social enterprises that test new ways of life under the philosophy of good living and civil disobedience”, as defined by Mikel Zuluaga, one of its participants. In December 2016, two of its members were arrested in Greece after attempting to cross the border with several refugees. In the heat of this action, new community paradigms were incubated within the baserritarra scope. For this, orchards, bakeries, workshops and hostels have been set up, in addition to having two houses – also communal – in the town. One of them for people in transit. The other, for those who want to stay. Hundreds of people have passed through there.

These spaces exist because here it is believed that “people are independent of any other organism to live as they please,” Zuluaga clarifies. Even independent of the Artea Network itself. “For them to take their own flight you have to create itineraries for their legalization and rooting,” he adds. In this sense and so that they do not “depend on anyone” it seeks to give them a labor alternative. They shy away from paternalistic and welfare attitudes, working from regulatory advice and civil disobedience in a process of receiving people based on four axes, as Mikel Zuluaga says: “Humanitarian action – empathy for the one who suffers; political action through confrontation; and, the denunciation of the causes for which people have to migrate”.

Throughout the summer of 2018 there was an increase in migrants arriving in Euskal Herria from the Andalusian coasts. Hundreds of them were dependent of neighborhood solidarity in Basque and Navarre towns and cities by being totally outside the institutional arrangements. Some of the alternatives that emerged from the community still persist.

In July of that same year, the train and bus station of Irun was filled by those who stayed overnight or were abandoned before or after trying to cross the border. “Every day between 50 and 80 arrived in the village with the intention of continuing their journey to the France” says Yon Aranguren, from Irungo Harrera Sarea. In August of that same year, the French police stepped up controls and the number of migrants who were “roughly returned”.

Around a hundred inhabitants of Irun and nearby villages “organized and self-managed outside the institutions” to offer individual and collective resources around what is now called Irungo Harrera Sarea. “The institutions set up an infrastructure to propose sleeping solutions and give meals,” says Aranguren. However, from the network they emphasize that although they have managed to have a device, “there are many restrictions and opaque rules” in the migratory lock that Irun supposes.

120 kilometers from Irun, in October 2018, Arrigorriaga Harrera was born. After three months in which the neighborhood movement of Bilbao tried to accommodate more than 200 people in spaces such as the courts of Atxuri, the Kultur Etxea of Bilbi, Karmela of Santutxu and in the Bizi Nahi the banks of Deusto; the movement was decentralized and spread throughout Bizkaia.

It was then that the gaztetxe of Arrigorriaga offered its space and created an assembly to “manage the reception of ten people, in collaboration with the Gazte Asanblada of the people, Ongi Etorri Errefuxiatuak Arrigorriaga and different militants of the popular movement”, clarifies Peio Molinuevo, member of the assembly.

More than twenty people have passed during this time through the house conditioned by the gaztetxe. “Some of them were just in transit, or have decided to look for other opportunities elsewhere. Today there are eight colleagues who are in the network, “says Molinuevo.

From the assembly, made up of fifteen militants at present, they recognize that “much of the work to be able to offer a dignified welcome is already done.” Therefore, in addition to raising awareness about the impossibility of free transit, anti-racism and solidarity, another of the lines of work deals with “being able to generate jobs for the comrades welcomed”. In this sense, his greatest achievement is the BiziEskola, a bicycle shop and workshop that has facilitated access to work for colleagues.

“The fact that Arrigorriaga Harrera (like many other harreras) was born is synonymous with the fact that the institutions are not doing their role well,” they say from the assembly. “Once these people arrive here, what awaits them is not much better, because in most cases survival in the so-called first world becomes hell: lack of institutional care, having to live homeless due to the shortage of government and municipal reception services, impossibility of registering …”, says Molinuevo.

(1) This refers to the registration document, i.e. registering in the Padrón municipal, which is the administrative register where all the neighbours who live in that municipality are listed. Normally you register in the street and number where you live, but there is also the possibility of registering without a fixed address for those who do not have a home or who live in ground floors, garages, etc. without a cédula de habitabilidad (something quite common in Spain).

It is a key document that allows you to access different benefits, defend your home in case of threat of eviction, accredits the time you have been living in Spain, allows you to access services and programmes, allows you to be assigned a family doctor etc… Normally, it is very difficult for migrants to obtain this document, especially because they do not make regular rental contracts etc.