Immigration policies: Spain, an ambiguous mirror
Carla Reschia - 28/01/2009
Thanks also to the political antagonism witnessed by the respective governments, the head-to-head between Italy and Spain on the safeguard of civil rights and social politics could resemble a sort of epic fight between good and evil. Civilised, secular and reformist Spain consents to gay marriage, rejects clerical and ecclesiastic interferences within the national legislation, safeguards and protects minorities and respects didactics and the bench, whereas nepotistic, Mafioso and right-wing Italy looks back to the past, enacts liberticidal laws and safeguards the national hypocrisy where anything goes as long as it doesn’t “create public scandal”.
But is this really the case and is it so for all fields? If we take a closer look at Spain’s immigration policies, some shadows emerge, as do some disquieting news items, especially in the (colonial) enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. For Africa’s dispossessed, the former Spanish Morocco, a land strip full of houses, protected by a double barrier of barbed wire longer than 10 km and higher than 6 metres, is the most accessible entry, it’s the Spanish Lampedusa. All those who want to enter at all costs, perhaps after having crossed the Sahara desert, pass by there. This translates into a permanent attack that degenerates in tragedy whenever migrants assault the frontier post armed with sticks and stones and are repulsed with guns. It happens cyclically but the most famous and dramatic episode, object to an inspection by the European Union, dates back to the first days of October 2005 when two thousand men of the Guardia Civil lined up, armed with tear gas, rubber bullets and real ones, to drive back the attack of six hundred desperate souls. Fourteen of them fell, hit by the Moroccan and Spanish guards. In 2006, another assault to the wire nettings was carried out and caused another victim. Last summer, migrants directly attacked the guards at the Beni-Eznar frontier post. And much more frequent are the “accidental” deaths of those who try to hoist themselves up with makeshift means to jump over the fence.
Besides, Zapatero’s Spain - pressed by economic stagnation and by a 10% unemployment rate that reaches 11% for immigrants and does not encourage welcoming policies - acknowledged, just like Berlusconi’s Italy, the new EU guidelines to extend from 40 to 60 days the maximum detention period in Spanish temporary permanence centres. There, just like in Italian centres, no national deputy or any association fighting to assess the living conditions of migrants in the prisons, are admitted.
The weight of economy is taking its toll. Since January, the socialist government deported 30 thousand illegal aliens and the Minister of Work and Immigration, Celestino Corbacho, declared that in 2009 the legal employment of immigrants would be reduced “almost to zero”. Some strategies for voluntary repatriation have already been proposed, among which some minimum loans aimed at supporting reintegration upon return home. The voluntary repatriation plan will allow about 100 thousand regular immigrants presently unemployed to return home, if they so wish, covered by an unemployment compensation paid by the Spanish government. In return, they will have to wait five years before they can permanently come back to Spain.
But a non voluntary implication of this policy raised the awareness of the independent American association Human Rights Watch (HRW) that in the report “Repatriation at all costs” stigmatises the practice of forced repatriation of unaccompanied foreign minors, warning that “Spain’s insistence to repatriate non accompanied minors that reach the country illegally can put them in situations of danger, degrading treatment and detention”.
In Andalusia, the most affected region, together with the Canary Islands, by the landings of illegal immigrants, “the authorities declared that they intend to repatriate to Morocco up to 1000 unaccompanied minors, claiming that all guarantees are present”. In reality, once in Morocco, according to HRW, the children are totally left to their own, because the authorities of the North African country don’t bother to look for their families of origin.
According to HRW researcher for children’s rights, Simone Troller, with this kind of actions, “Spain is putting the integrity of these children at stake”, because it does not guarantee them legal assistance, as it does to adults, and violates the obligations under the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Another aspect that is criticised by the associations in defence of human rights is the provision of military means to countries such as Mauritania, Senegal and Capo Verde destined for anti immigration patrolling and vigilance. A modern army, everything but peaceful, comprising three C-212 reconnaissance planes to comb the seas in search of ships full of migrants, eight patrol vessels, off-roaders, various technical equipment and even a Uh-1H helicopter of the Spanish army, all supported by specialised technical assistance and training courses. This strategy certainly solves, by shifting it elsewhere, the problem of debarkations, particularly frequent and displeasing during the summer season. However, it does not face the humanitarian emergency but rather aggravates it. Moreover, it delegates the management of migrants to countries that provide little or no democratic guarantees and where robberies, violence and arbitrary murders are a common occurrence.
Even so, Spain is among the most liberal and illuminated countries in coping with migrants and on last April in Conil de la Frontera, during the conference Jornadas sobre inmigración – Integración y conflicto cultural , Manuel Peréz Yruela, the head of the Institute for Advanced Social Studies of Andalusia (IESA), stated that he was impressed by how Spain, a nation with no immigration history (in the 90’s it hosted only a million immigrants), had in the last years taken in 4 million regular immigrants – about 10% of the entire population, and was rated first in the European Union for the number of immigrants – without witnessing relevant xenophobic drives within the country.
Not even the attempts of 11 March 2004 at the Atocha station in Madrid were able to trigger rejection, though this could happen with the present economic crisis skilfully handled in an anti-immigration key.
Nevertheless, the grey areas, that also include the increasing accusations of violent actions against immigrants by the hand of the police forces, exist, and induce to consider the issue in a less plain and superficial manner. No wonder we talk of Fortress Europe.