Surge of Migrants in Spain Strains Tolerance 

By Jenna Tidwell

            In 2018, the surge of migrants into Europe continued, but there is a new name at the top of the list of countries boasting the most newly acquired international residents.[1] At the end of July 2018, Spain official became “the Mediterranean’s most sought-after destination for irregular migrants travelling by sea, surpassing Italy and Greece.”[2] While the country did attempt to enforce a crackdown on illegal immigration and stopped approximately 70,000 illegal entries, over 60,000 migrants made it into Spain during 2018.[3] In the past, Spain has been said to have had a policy of tolerance for migrants entering into the country, but this new influx has led to several hastily implemented policies and actions that paint the country in a very different light.[4]

            For those with knowledge of geography, it is easy to see why Spain has recently become the most popular destination for migrants fleeing persecution in Africa for a new life in Europe.[5] At the closest points, Spain is just slightly more than seven nautical miles from the coast of Morocco.[6] Thus, the short journey in combination with a variety of other factors, “including better weather, the end of Ramadan[,] and the closure of other routes through Italy and Greece” led to a huge influx of migrants from the North African country to Spain during the summer of 2018.[7] While migration from Morocco to Spain has been increasing since 2016,[8] the total number of migrants entering Spain tripled during 2018, with over half of the arrivals occurring during June and July.[9] By July 25, 2018, Spain’s total influx of migrants surpassed 24,000, while only 28,000 migrants entered the country during the entire year of 2017.[10] By early September 2018, that number had grown to over 35,000 migrants,[11]  for an average of over 4,000 migrant entries per month. With these numbers, “Spain is now receiving twice as many migrants as Greece and six times as many as Italy.”[12]

            The surge of migrants into Western Europe began in 2015, and while most countries have crossed the line from welcoming the newcomers with open arms to closing their borders and backing anti-migrant politicians, Spain has been a notable exception.[13] According to a Pew Research Study published in September 2018, Spain is the most supportive country of refugees on the continent of Europe.[14] The study found that eighty-six percent of adults in Spain were supportive of “taking in people fleeing violence and war.”[15] Even with Spain’s high level of unemployment (over fifteen percent), the country’s center-left government has appeared sympathetic to the plight of the individuals seeking entry, and anti-migrant rhetoric among politicians has been exceedingly rare.[16] In fact, a top migration official in Spain’s Labor Ministry, José Alarcón Hernández, told his fellow countrymen that they “shouldn’t be frightened by the arrival of 50,000 or so in one year.”[17] Additionally, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez welcomed a boat containing 630 migrants in June 2018 by stating that “it is our duty to help avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a safe port to these people, to comply with our human rights obligations.”[18] Sánchez and his Socialist Workers’ Party have repeatedly made efforts to distinguish Spain as a country of compassion for migrants.[19]

            With its refreshing image of compassion and tolerance, more migrants than ever are leaving the shores of Africa in hopes of starting over in the welcoming country of Spain, only to find that the country’s policies are beginning to shift.[20] Mere weeks after the Prime Minister warmly welcomed the boatload of migrants into Spain, the country began to make headlines for taking actions deemed to be conservative and even “racist.”[21] In late August 2018, ten “migrants were arrested on suspicion of assaulting police and belonging to a criminal organi[z]ation” after “throwing quicklime and faeces at civil guards in order to reach Spanish soil.”[22] An additional 100 migrants were immediately deported back to Morocco without going through the standard legal processes after “a mass scaling of the Ceuta fence,” which sits on the border of Morocco and Spain.[23] Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister stated that the country had not changed its policy on migrants, but the country’s Interior Minister went on to state that Spain was not “going to allow violent migration to attack our country and our security forces and agencies,”[24] which suggests that harsher policies would be put into place if the government deemed them necessary to protect the country.

            While Spain’s acceptance of migrants has led the country to have a reputation as compassionate and tolerant, its tolerance has been deemed “fragile.”[25] As the influx of migrants continues to grow, Spain’s government could find itself between a rock and a hard place as it attempts to navigate the rising tide.[26] Early evidence indicates that the country’s migrant policies may begin shifting to the right[27], but whether or not Spain will begin to close its borders, elect anti-migrant politicians, or implement strict policies similar to those of Italy and Greece[28] is yet to be seen.

[1] Alice Tidey et. al., Is Spain Experiencing an Immigration Boom?, EuroNews (July 31, 2018),

[2] Id.

[3] Heba Saleh, Migrant Surge to Spain Prompts Moroccan Crackdown, Financial Times (Jan. 4, 2019),

[4] Id.

[5] James McAuley & Pamela Rolfe, Spain Is the Most Welcoming Country in Europe for Migrants. Will It Last?, The Washington Post (Oct. 28, 2018),

[6] Id.

[7] EuroNews, supra note 1.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Lucia Benavides, Spain Now Sees More Migrant Arrivals Than Any Other European County, NPR (Sept. 20, 2018),

[12] Id.

[13] McAuley, supra note 5.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Guy Hedgecoe, Spanish Government Criticised Over Response to Immigration, The Irish Times (Sept. 2, 2018),

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Guy Hedgecoe, Migration Surge Tests Spain’s ‘Fragile Tolerance’, Politico (July 31, 2018),

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

[28] McAuley, supra note 5.