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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Sam Jones in Madrid

Police in Spain cancel plan to grant extra days off for migrant arrests on border

Spanish police at the border between Spain and France in Irún, Spain.
Spanish police at the border between Spain and France in Irún, Spain. Photograph: Vincent West/Reuters

A police inspector in northern Spain is facing possible disciplinary action for attempting to increase migrant arrest rates by promising officers extra days off based on the number of people they detained.

Details of the hastily cancelled scheme, which was due to take effect on 1 July in the Basque town of Irún – a popular departure point for people aiming to cross the border into southern France – were revealed by the regional branch of the Jupol police union on Tuesday.

According to documents posted online, members of the immigration and border force in Irún were to be offered two days off if they worked Saturday and Sunday and made no arrests. Those who arrested one person would be given three days off, those who arrested two, four days off, and those who arrested more than 10 people would be given five days off.

Police sources said the order had been rescinded as soon as senior officers were made aware of it, and that a disciplinary investigation had been launched.

Denis Itxaso, the central government’s representative in the Basque Country, described the order as an “outdated and ridiculous” mistake.

“I’m very sorry that this image of the police has been given as it does not live up to what the police, who would never act in this manner, actually do,” he added. “These procedures died out in the police many years ago. It’s a ridiculous mistake that was fixed as soon as we became aware of it.”

The Irún Support Network, a local volunteer group that helps migrants in the town, said it was “staggered and deeply worried” by the idea that police officers were “to be rewarded for hunting migrants”.

It added: “The lack of respect for, and the trampling of, the fundamental rights of migrant people, of the existing legislation, and of the police’s labour rights, is unheard of and disturbing.”

At least nine people have died trying to cross the border into France since 2021. Six died while attempting to swim across the river Bidasoa that separates Irún from the French town of Hendaye, while three others were killed by a train.

Four years ago, Médecins Sans Frontières warned that migrants and refugees at the border regularly faced “pushbacks” or refoulement from French police, leaving them stranded and in limbo.

“This relentless policy of push back and refoulement is inexcusable,” the international medical charity said at the time. “People are denied the opportunity to apply for asylum in France, and minors are not considered as such; they are routinely turned away and sent back to Spain, instead of being protected by the French authorities as the law requires.”

That, in turn, has led some migrants and refugees to seek the help of people-trafficking gangs who offer often dangerous routes into France. Three months ago, a court in the French city of Bayonne sentenced one people-trafficker to three years in jail and imposed a fine of €40,000 (£34,000) after he was found guilty of smuggling 247 people into France after charging them €150 each.

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