Spain brings back free healthcare for undocumented migrants

MADRID, June 15 (Reuters) - Spain's new socialist government promised on Friday it would restore free healthcare for undocumented migrants, a right removed by the former administration as part of cost-cutting.

The move is the latest migrant-friendly initiative by the government of Pedro Sanchez, who offered on Monday to take in a rescue ship that was drifting in the Mediterranean sea with 629 migrants on board. Italy and Malta had refused to let it dock.

The government will draw up a draft law with the proposal, it said, which must be approved by parliament. Although the Socialists have a minority of 84 seats in the 350-member assembly, most parties back the proposal and it seemed certain to be approved.

RELATED: Struggles of migrants, refugees in wheelchairs

14 PHOTOS
Struggles of migrants, refugees in wheelchairs
See Gallery
Struggles of migrants, refugees in wheelchairs
A disabled man drives his wheelchair between tents at the Greek-Macedonian border near the Greek village of Idomeni on March 10, 2016, where thousands of refugees and migrants are trapped by the Balkan border blockade. The German and Greek leaders blasted Balkan countries for shutting their borders to migrants ahead of an EU ministers meeting on March 10. Greek authorities said there were 41,973 asylum seekers in the country, including some 12,000 stuck at Idomeni on the closed Macedonian border. / AFP / DANIEL MIHAILESCU (Photo credit should read DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images)
A migrant on a wheelchair waits next to tents, to be allowed with other refugees and migrants, to cross the border into Serbia, at a makeshift camp at the Macedonian-Serbian border, near the village of Tabanovce at on March 9, 2016. Migrants hoping to trek from Greece towards northern Europe found their path blocked March 9 after a string of western Balkan nations slammed shut their borders, exacerbating a dire humanitarian situation on the Macedonian border. Slovenia and Croatia, two of the countries along the route used by hundreds of thousands of people in recent months, barred entry to transiting migrants from midnight. Serbia indicated it would follow suit. / AFP / Robert ATANASOVSKI (Photo credit should read ROBERT ATANASOVSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A Greek policeman helps a man in a wheelchair as migrants and refugees wait to cross the Greece-Macedonian border near the village of Idomeni, on March 2, 2016. Macedonia on March 2 allowed around 250 migrants to cross its border with Greece, as 10,000 more were left waiting in miserable conditions, Greek officials and AFP reporters at the scene said. The European Union unveiled a 700-million-euro emergency aid plan, over three years, for Greece and other states hit by the migrant crisis. / AFP / SAKIS MITROLIDIS (Photo credit should read SAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images)
A man pushes a girl sleeping on a wheelchair as migrants and refugees cross the Greek-Macedonian border near the town of Gevgelija on February 27, 2016. Four Balkan countries announced a daily cap on migrant arrivals, deepening the crisis gripping the European Union, as Brussels warned of 'disaster' if an upcoming summit with Turkey failed. / AFP / Robert ATANASOVSKI (Photo credit should read ROBERT ATANASOVSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Red Cross members help a migrant in a wheelchair as migrants and refugees wait to cross the Greek-Macedonian border near the village of Idomeni, on February 27, 2016. More than 5,000 people were stranded at the Idomeni camp on Greece's northern border with Macedonia on February 27 after four Balkan countries announced a daily cap on migrant arrivals. The buildup began in earnest last week after Macedonia started refusing entry to Afghans and imposed stricter document controls on Syrians and Iraqis, slowing the passage of migrants and refugees to a trickle. And the situation looked set to worsen significantly after Slovenia and Croatia, both EU member states, and Serbia and Macedonia said they would restrict the number of daily arrivals to 580. / AFP / SAKIS MITROLIDIS (Photo credit should read SAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images)
HATAY, TURKEY - MARCH 10: 30-years-old Syrian nurse Abdullah Abu Khalid (L) push wheelchair of a wounded refugee, fled from Syrian civil war in Turkey's Southern province Hatay's district of Reyhanli near Syrian border on March 10, 2016. Khalid voluntarily visits wounded and sick people with his motorbike. Khalid also support refugees with psychological support and prayer. (Photo by Cem Genco/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Migrants and refugees carry a teenager on a wheelchair as they demonstrate behind a fence and barbed wire at the Greek-Macedonian border, near Gevgelija, on February 27, 2016. Macedonia denied all passage to Afghans and ramped up document controls for Syrians and Iraqis. On February 26, there were some 4,000 people waiting to cross at the border post of Idomeni, local police said. Greek authorities have been regulating the flow of refugees but hundreds have set out on foot for the border, determined to continue their journey despite being told they will be turned back. / AFP / Robert ATANASOVSKI (Photo credit should read ROBERT ATANASOVSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A migrant in a wheelchair is pushed by another one across the Greek-Macedonian border near the town of Gevgelija on February 19, 2016. European Union leaders meeting in Brussels piled pressure on Turkey to curb the flow of migrants to Europe in line with an aid-for-cooperation deal signed last year. Pressure to enforce the deal is growing as EU officials say thousands of migrants are still crossing the Aegean daily from Turkey after more than one million made the perilous journey last year in the greatest such movement since World War II. / AFP / Robert ATANASOVSKI (Photo credit should read ROBERT ATANASOVSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A wheelchair-bound elderly woman arrives along with other migrants and refugees to the village of Miratovac after crossing into Serbia via the Macedonian border on January 28, 2016. More than a million people headed to Europe in search of new lives last year, most of them refugees fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in the continent's worst migration crisis since World War II. The onset of winter does not appear to have deterred the migrants. / AFP / ARMEND NIMANI (Photo credit should read ARMEND NIMANI/AFP/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - FEBRUARY 10: A Syrian girl push a wheelchair, carrying an amputee boy as they shelter at tents and try to live their lives with humanitarian aid send by Turkey, UNHCR and other Turkish Humanitarian aid organizations, after flee the attacks of Syrian and Russian air forces, close to the Bab al-Salameh border crossing on Turkish-Syrian border near Azaz town of Aleppo, Syria on February 10, 2016. (Photo by Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - An elderly refugee on his wheelchair waits to board a bus to the Greek-Macedonian border, after his arrival to the port of Piraeus in Athens area on February 18, 2016, along with other migrants from the Greek Islands of Lesbos and Chios. Greece on February 18, 2016 hit back at European Union criticism of its handling of the massive migrant influx, saying the time for blaming Athens was 'over' as it prepared to open new centres to register refugees. / AFP / LOUISA GOULIAMAKI (Photo credit should read LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A disabled boy sits in a wheel-chair on a beach shortly after arriving with other migrants and refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey, on October 14, 2015. AFP PHOTO / DIMITAR DILKOFF (Photo credit should read DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images)
A man carries a wheel-chair on a shore shortly after arriving with other migrants and refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey, on October 14, 2015. AFP PHOTO / DIMITAR DILKOFF (Photo credit should read DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images)
A man holds his wheelchair as migrants and refugees board buses to go to a refugee center after crossing Croatian-Slovenian border in Rigonce on October 27, 2015. More than 700,000 refugees and migrants have reached Europe's Mediterranean shores so far this year, amid the continent's worst migration crisis since World War II, the UN refugee agency said today. AFP PHOTO / JURE MAKOVEC (Photo credit should read Jure Makovec/AFP/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

"Healthcare is a right and the protection of health is essential," government spokeswoman Isabel Celaa told a news conference.

Spain offers universal healthcare to its citizens. The former center-right government of Mariano Rajoy withdrew the right to general healthcare for undocumented migrants in 2012 as part of a program of spending cuts.

The government later reinstated some rights like access to emergency healthcare in 2015, but fell short of returning full coverage to an estimated 800,000 people residing in Spain without papers.

Spain receives a tiny percentage of the total asylum claims in Europe, and of those received it accepts fewer than the EU average, according to the Spanish Commission for Refugees.

However, the EU border agency expects illegal migration will rise again in 2018, potentially turning migration into a more pressing issue for Sanchez. (Reporting By Rodrigo de Miguel; Writing by Sonya Dowsett; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Read Full Story