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José Cabrera: “Given a choice, most people would not leave their country”

Rosario Pérez · Photos: Olmo Calvo/Clemence Alasseur

José Carlos Cabrera, a Campogibraltarian “at heart”, is at the forefront of CEAR’s communications department in Andalusia, and explains the “limbo” in which thousands of refugees find themselves throughout the EU

“The vast majority of us would prefer to live in our own country, close to our roots, our people, our culture… In most cases, those who are forced to seek asylum do so because they have no other choice”.

These are the words of José Carlos Cabrera, a graduate in Arabic Philology, expert in Intercultural Mediation CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) who for the last year and a half, heads the Communication and Advocacy department at ‘CEAR Andalusia’ (Spanish Refugee Aid Commission).

“Much of our efforts are focused on legal advice and providing support to asylum seekers, but most importantly, we provide ‘training’ for refugees to help them integrate into our society as quickly as possible”, Cabrera explains.


He is a “Campogibraltarian at heart” with long-standing experience in the integration of young immigrants, much of his work is carried out in Algeciras. He is also a researcher at the University of Granada.

World Refugee Day took place on the 20th of June, and a thought-provoking report was published to coincide with the event. According to the report, there are currently 70 million displaced people on our planet.

51% of the arrivals into Europe by sea happen on Andalusian coasts (mainly the Strait of Gibraltar, Malaga and Almeria) and in 2018, 811 people lost their lives along these coasts (a figure that exceeds 2,300 people if we take into account the scale of the tragedy throughout the Mediterranean).

As for those who make it, the numbers speak for themselves. According to José Carlos Cabrera, who also directs a radio programme called “Red Refugio” for Andalusian public radio and is a professor of Moroccan Arabic at the Tres Culturas Foundation, there were more than 54,000 asylum applications in Spain in 2018, which is 74% higher than in 2017. This puts Spain in 4th place within the European Union regarding number of applications, preceded by Germany, France and Greece.

José Cabrera CEAR Andalusia

“The lack of resources to deal with this situation has led to an accumulation of applications, and we currently have around 100,000 people in a kind of limbo in Spain, with waiting times of up to 2 years until their asylum requests can be resolved”, explains Cabrera, who further clarified that 3 out of 4 applications are rejected.

“The asylum system in the EU is a lottery since depending on where you arrive, you will have a greater or lesser chance of being accepted. Spain, contrary to what many people believe, is well below the European average”.

A widespread misconception is that most asylum seekers come from Africa. In Spain and for the third consecutive year, this painful ranking, is made up of Venezuelans, followed by Colombians and Syrians and, to a lesser extent, those arriving from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras – mainly people fleeing from the “maras”, extorsion gangs that have become stronger in recent years and who are provoking what CEAR calls a “hidden war”, because being persecuted by them is not considered a reason to seek asylum.

José Cabrera CEAR Andalusia

As for those fleeing from African countries suffering from armed conflicts – such as the Central African Republic or Southern Sudan – Cabrera explains that many times they do not seek asylum due to lack of information.

He is also concerned about the increase of unaccompanied minors, whose arrival to Spain has tripled in just one year.

“In 2017, 2,000 boys and girls arrived without a parent; in 2018 this increased to 6,000. We must not forget that this is a very vulnerable group that needs special attention”.

There is a lot of suffering behind all these numbers; heart-breaking stories of people who had to leave everything behind because they had no other choice, because staying was not an option”, concludes the head of communication of CEAR in Andalusia, a community that currently has about 2,000 places for the resettlement of refugees.

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