On 01 October, the Catalan government introduced an independence referendum, which was declared illegal under Spain's constitution. Nearly 2.3 million people voted in the referendum, which led Spain's interior ministry to deploy 10,000 national and paramilitary police from various regions of Spain to Catalonia. Since the referendum, nearly 1600 companies, including the banks Caixa and Sabadell, have moved their legal headquarters out of Catalonia. As a result of the referendum, the Catalan parliament formally declared independence on Friday, 27 October.
Following this declaration, the Spanish government dissolved the local parliament and revoked Catalonia's autonomy by triggering Article 155 of the constitution. Measures by the Spanish government to enforce direct rule, including any arrests of pro-independence Catalan parliamentarians, will sustain tensions in the coming days and weeks. The Spanish government has scheduled regional elections on 21 December, and Spanish vice-president Soraya Saenz de Santamaria will serve as acting president of Catalonia in the interim. Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and several former ministers have fled to Brussels (Belgium) following the charges against the separatist leadership. It is expected that political uncertainty associated with Catalonia's bid for independence will continue to fuel demonstrations in the run-up to the 21 December regional elections.
On 02 November, a judge in Madrid ordered eight members of the Catalan government to be in custody for charges over the declaration of independence, including possible charges of sedition, rebellion, and misuse of public funds. Many feel the arrests, and possible charges, are a revenge tactic against the Catalan government by Spanish authorities and an obstruction of democracy. In response, the Catalan National Assembly, a pro-independence grassroots group, called for a huge demonstration on Thursday (02 November) evening outside the Catalan parliament in Barcelona. (The Guardian) These leaders are due to appear before the Spanish High Court on 09 November.
Local sources indicate that pro-independence mobilization has been decreasing in recent days, as secessionist activists reportedly feel betrayed by the departure of Catalan leaders. Some radical pro-independence parties have indicated that they will participate in the December elections, which may help ease political tensions. However, demonstrations for and against Catalan independence are liable to continue over the coming days.
Gatherings in Barcelona are most likely in central areas of the city, around government buildings and on main thoroughfares. They may attract large crowds. The situation remains tense in Catalonia; and while protests can start with peaceful intentions, they can result in localized clashes between the police and protesters. Clashes between rival groups of protesters are possible during such gatherings, posing incidental risks to bystanders.
- Avoid all demonstrations and protests. Students are not permitted to participate in any demonstrations or protests while abroad.
- Expect heightened security in the vicinity of the Catalan Parliament and city councils.
- Leave an area at the first sign that a group of protesters and/or security force personnel are gathering. If inadvertently caught in the vicinity of unrest, quickly but calmly relocate to the nearest secure location and remain there until the situation has stabilized. Possible flashpoint areas in Barcelona include Placa de Catalunya, Passeig de Gracia, the Catalan parliament building and Placa de la Universitat.
- There has so far been no impact on operations at train stations and airports in affected cities, including Barcelona's El Prat International Airport (BCN). However, disruption is possible during the planned general strike on 6-9 November.
- Monitor local news sources for further information. If you are in Spain or planning a trip soon, monitor your alerts from International SOS.
- Keep your phone charged and loaded with minutes at all times. Respond to any communication from the university if required.
- Make sure to keep your family, friends, and loved ones updated if you are in an area impacted by demonstrations and protests.
Global Risk and Safety continuously monitors events that impact travelers abroad and will communicate directly with individuals in those impacted areas if needed.