MADRID (AP) — A group of 39 Palestinian refugees has sought asylum in Spain after refusing to get back on a plane during a Barcelona stopover on their flight from Cairo, Spanish authorities said Friday.
Police are investigating the charter flight that flew the group into Spain's second-largest city on Monday, a spokesman with Spain's Interior Ministry told The Associated Press.
The flight's final destination was the Ecuadorean capital, Quito, with scheduled stops in Barcelona and Bogotá, in Colombia.
When the plane landed at El Prat airport on Monday, the group left the aircraft and later refused to get back on, a spokeswoman with the Spanish government’s delegation in Catalonia said.
They remained at police facilities in the airport for five days and were provided with food and assistance, the spokeswoman said.
She said that by midday Friday, 29 of them had been allowed to formally enter Spain and were being cared for by social services. The asylum requests of the 10 remaining at the airport terminal were still being processed, the official said.
She spoke on condition of anonymity, because press officials in Spain are not normally authorized to be identified by name in media reports.
Sophie Muller, the representative in Spain for the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said that the passengers were carrying refugee documents issued by UNRWA, the UN agency that provides essential services to Palestinian refugees. She also said that many in the group had previously submitted asylum applications in Egypt and Ethiopia.
Spain’s Interior Ministry, which oversees the office for asylum applications in Spain and customs checkpoints at airports, said the individual applications of the refugees were being examined. The process can take from days to weeks or even months.
Spain received nearly 50,000 asylum requests in the first 10 months of 2021, mostly from Venezuelans, Colombians and Moroccans.
The Interior Ministry, which has recently tried to clear a backlog of previous applications, said more than 15,000 people have been granted refugee status or other types of protection under international asylum laws this year. More than 41,000 requests were rejected.
Airports are a main point of entry for refugees and migrants seeking asylum or work in Europe.
Earlier this month, a group of passengers on a charter flight from Morocco to Turkey that made an emergency landing on a Spanish island jumped onto the tarmac in an alleged attempt to leave the airport without going through immigration controls.
Spanish authorities are investigating how that flight was arranged and whether there was a pre-existing plan to fake the in-flight medical emergency that prompted the forced landing. A dozen of the passengers are being held without bail while police believe that at least a dozen more fled the scene.
Brito reported from Tenerife, Canary Islands.
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