The Madrid Wall

The Madrid WallThe leader of the Spanish government has been breathlessly praised with the name “Vivazapatero” by the European Left for a long time. In fact, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has represented the politician ready to meet the challenges of modernity with solutions in the name of civilisation. Zapatero has thus guaranteed a strong reputation of a champion in civil rights. Nevertheless, this reality has soon stopped at the narrow borders of Spanish citizens, that is, of those who have their identity documents in order to live on the republic’s land.

For all others, “sin papeles”(1) migrants, the socialist leader’s face has not proven to be that broadminded. Like other European countries, Madrid applies a harsh policy of closed borders. In certain ways, the Spanish Prime Minister was actually the forerunner of the current policy of military control of the frontiers outside the immediate borders of Europe in order to deal with migration fluxes.

Madrid’s closed fist comes by in 2005 when the summer goes by bringing about the arrival of “cayucos”, the traditional boats of African fishermen packed with people en route towards the Eldorado called Canaries. In a few months 33,000 Sub-Saharan migrants arrive in the Spanish archipelago triggering a diplomatic and security device to block the flow. The Zapatero Government is mobilized to involve the European Union in the reinforcement of the role of Frontex, the agency for frontiers’ security. Military controls begin in the Atlantic separating Africa from the Canaries and in the Mediterranean.
The “Plan Africa” is created (approved in May 2006) initially for a period of three years, from 2006 to 2009. It has been renewed up to 2012.

The Plan is made up of a series of readmission agreements and the involved countries (Mauritania, Gambia, Guinea-Conacry, Mali and the Green Coast) receive further aid to development on the basis of the collaborations, that is, accepting the forced repatriations. Those who refuse, pay the consequences. This is the case of Senegal, against whom Madrid has unleashed a diplomatic offensive obtaining the forced repatriation from Spain, of five thousand Senegalese immigrants in the past few years.
In exchange, the Zapatero government has guaranteed cutting debts, development aid and residence permits of two thousand regular Senegalese working in fisheries and of seven hundred strawberry gatherers.

The leader has always claimed his own role in the construction of the “wall” surrounding Europe: “Our immigration policy – he said – has a principle: those who can come here in a legal way can stay. This means that there will be a determined struggle against illegal immigration”(2) .

The Frontex’s policy of control has undoubtedly brought the drastic decrease in the arrival of migrants en route towards Spain.
In 2007, a year after its introduction, the arrivals at the Spanish archipelago dropped down by 60%. According to Madrid’s official data, in 2009 approximately 7 thousand illegal immigrants entered the Spanish territory, 50% less than the previous year.

However, the rate of the number of victims did not decrease. Every year, it goes from 700 to 800(3). These are mainly young people, often under age, who are setting out to Europe'. The controls impose the choice of even more dangerous ocean routes to escape military patrols. The activities of Frontex thus increase the passeurs’ and criminal networks’ deals that sustain themselves by human trafficking.

Moreover, during the past four years, Spain has denied entry to 400 thousand people at its land border with Morocco in the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. We are talking of real rejections that take place in geographic areas where the violation of human rights occur due to the fact that humanitarian organizations can hardly exercise control. The picture that comes out of this situation shows a strict immigration policy. Even if it applied outside the borders of the country it still has important consequences inside. On the one hand the resentment is widespread and on the other hand, the practice of exclusion is allowed.

In this context, with the complicity of the wind of crises, the tones have been recently raised against these “second class” citizens that are deprived of identity documents.

All this came up with the recent revolt led by certain mayors against a 2004 law that guarantees the right to health also to illegal immigrants. The latter have the right to benefit from healthcare once they are registered at the local council of the town they reside.

The revolt was also stirred up by the People’s Party who has clearly highlighted the real hostility against the “other”.
The data is confirmed by a survey conducted by the Racism Observatory of the Ministry of Labour and Immigration. The survey points out that the demand for the increase in restrictions against migrants has risen by 18 points in the past five years.

42% of the three thousand people interviewed consider that the laws regulating the access and the stay of foreigners in Spain are “too tolerant”.

To the question in the survey that asks whether there are too many immigrants on the Spanish territory, 77% of the respondents answer that they find their presence “excessive”.
Until 1996 only 28% of Spanish citizens used to think this way.

Cristina Artoni
Translated into English by Elizabeth Grech
June 2010

-1) Illegal immigrants
-2) Intervention of José Luis Zapatero during the electoral campaign in March 2008.
-3) Source: Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía

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