Spain Now Sees More Migrant Arrivals Than Any Other European Country Far more immigrants and asylum-seekers are crossing the Spanish border than those entering other usual Mediterranean entry points Greece and Italy.
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Spain Now Sees More Migrant Arrivals Than Any Other European Country

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Spain Now Sees More Migrant Arrivals Than Any Other European Country

Spain Now Sees More Migrant Arrivals Than Any Other European Country

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This summer, Spain agreed to take in a ship of 600 migrants that had been turned away from Italy. In the months since, Spain has become the destination of choice for migrants from Asia and Africa. More than 35,000 people have crossed into that country, either by land or sea, this year. Reporter Lucia Benavides has been finding that Spain was not prepared.

FRANCISCO CANSINO: (Speaking Spanish).

LUCIA BENAVIDES, BYLINE: Francisco Cansino is showing me around a colorful two-story building with an outdoor courtyard. It's a refugee center run by the Spanish Commission for Refugee Help in Malaga. Then, a group of about a dozen migrants walk in, all in matching black hoodies and sweatpants given to them by the Red Cross.

CANSINO: (Speaking Spanish).

BENAVIDES: Cansino is taken aback. He was not expecting them. He says they could be from the boat that arrived earlier that morning or the day before. He isn't sure. This constant flow of migrants has been common this summer as Spain experienced a surge in arrivals triple what they saw last year.

When I ask if the country was prepared for this increase, Cansino is quick to respond.

CANSINO: (Through interpreter) No. Spain has improvised things. It was known that arrivals would increase this summer, and things could have been done better.

BENAVIDES: The refugee centers in Spain's southern region of Andalusia are overcrowded, and temporary centers with makeshift tents have been set up to deal with the influx of people. Cansino says he expects the flow of migrants to continue.

CANSINO: (Through interpreter) If people need to flee, they'll flee. And they'll look for whatever route they can.

BENAVIDES: Joy Good (ph) is one of those migrants. She arrived at the center late August. Good is a soft-spoken 20-year-old from a small village in Nigeria. She's eight months pregnant. Her protruding belly seems almost out of place for such a small-framed woman.

JOY GOOD: They say - they told me that I would stay here six months.

BENAVIDES: Good has applied for asylum, a process that can take months. She left Nigeria on her own two years ago. She says she was raped at age 15 and gave birth to a daughter that she's left with friends. She doesn't tell me much about her trip, but puts her face in her hands and shakes her head when it gets brought up.

GOOD: It is difficult for me to say. Very soon, I believe that everything will work well.

BENAVIDES: Raul Jimenez is the mayor's adviser on social rights. He agrees that Spain was not prepared for the increase of arrivals, and the city of Malaga is still asking for funds and resources from Madrid. He believes Spain's new socialist government made a mistake when they took in some of the rescue vessels that were turned away by Italy and Malta.

RAUL JIMENEZ: (Through interpreter) It seemed like Spain would open its borders to let all migrants in. That has resulted in a pull-factor situation that, in the last months, has tripled the number of migrants coming in compared to last year.

BENAVIDES: Francisco Cansino of the refugee center says this idea of pull factors, actions that incentivize migrants to cross, is unfounded. He talks instead of push factors, the reason why people flee their country in the first place. He worries that talking about the increasing migrant arrivals as an invasion or a crisis could lead to anti-immigrant rhetoric. The trend towards nationalism and right-wing populism across Europe, he says, is fresh on his mind.

CANSINO: (Through interpreter) It's really worrisome because I didn't think it could happen in Italy. And I don't think it could happen in Spain. However, I'm starting to have my doubts.

BENAVIDES: Cansino says there were times this summer when there were so many migrants that Malaga's refugee centers simply didn't have room for all of them. When I ask if it feels more organized now, he chuckles and says, only a little bit.

For NPR News, I'm Lucia Benavides in Malaga.

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