Immigration on the south frontier of Europe

Migrants from Bangladesh waiting at the Spanish/Moroccan border for either EU papers or deportation
Teaser Bild Untertitel
Migrants from Bangladesh waiting at the Spanish/Moroccan border for either EU papers or deportation


by Valentín Gonzalez

Human rights violations, conflicts, terrorism, war, hunger, poverty and global warming are much more than headlines for most of the people of the planet. It is the “real world” which has to face human kind. Immigration it is a consequence of all of that. This article is an approximation of the phenomenon in Spain, the southern frontier of the European Union in the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All.

Spain has become a country of immigration in a very short time. Economic development and democratic consolidation has made it an attractive destiny for migrants mainly but not exclusively from Latin-American and north of Africa. Just 25 years ago Spain was a percipient country of development funds and therefore an emigration one. Hundreds of thousands of Spaniards moved to Latin America and European countries during the sixties. Nowadays the situation has completely changed and immigration is one of the key issues to be discussed in the daily political and social debate mainly because of the rapid increase of migrants in just 5 years. According with the INE (National Institute of Statistics) Spanish population has growth a lot, in a way motivated for the increase of migrants. In just 5 years, since 2001 to 2005 the figures of migrants have been doubled. The evolution was clear from 1.370.657 in 2001 to 3.730.610 in 2005, according to the latest population census.

The result of this intense and quick process is that Spain has passed in a few years to be one of the countries of the European Union with a small percentage of migrants having just a 2% in 1998 to the fourth in 2005 with 8.5% of the total population. Spain has been for the seventh consecutive year the main country of immigration’s reception in the EU.

This is indeed a short period of time to be prepared to manage this situation which is new and sudden. The differences with other European Union’s countries are that the immigration process took much more time. Besides, the Spanish geographical location as a south frontier of Europe made it much more difficult to manage the permanent entrance of people from African countries like Mali and Senegal to Canary Islands or to the Iberian Peninsula from Morocco. Although there are some false stereotypes here quite prevalent in the public opinion which in a great percentage it is believed that Spain is being invaded by “pateras” and “Cayucos” in spite of the data available which clearly indicates that entry on planes is the prime entering door, however what it is true is that the social and economical gap between Morocco and Spain is the widest. The Spanish PIB is up to 15 times bigger than Morocco’s one and the distance between Algeciras and Tanger is only 14 KM. Spanish TV broadcasting gets perfectly well to north Morocco which it is, in a way, a permanent “invitation” to cross the border. In fact according with Secretary of Estate of Immigration Moroccans are the majority group with 18% of the total foreigner population.

During the last years to cross the “Estrecho” (the 13Km distance between Tanger and Spanish coast) in small boats (pateras) is becoming almost impossible for migrants due to the increase of surveillance measures which have been improved with high technology controls.

However there was an increase of migrants and of the traffic of people trying to reach Spain across Canary Islands from Mali and Mauritania. According to officials date every year arrives in Canary Island more than 30.000 migrants in cayucos (a canarian word to refer small boats) and it is indeed a tragedy. Every year 6.000 migrants are killed crossing from the African coast to the Canary Islands. Human Rights organizations as Amnesty International and Movement against Intolerance criticized the European Union and the Spanish government for their politics in the European southern frontier as a humanitarian failure.

Public Opinion

The immigration process has shaped the Spanish public opinion. They have different feelings and contradictory thoughts about the immigration issue. Negative and positive perceptions coexist in the last public poll made by the governmental Sociologic Research Center (C.I.S). 59.6% of the Spanish population thinks that there are too much migrants and a 40% considers that immigration is the prime problem of the country, more than terrorism and unemployment. There are 84.7% of Spaniards who think that only those immigrants who have labour contracts should be allowed in the country. There are 6.8 % who believe that migrants should be allowed to enter without any conditions and there are the other 6% who believe that foreign workers should be forbidden to enter Spain. There are also positive feelings and attitudes toward migrants as it is indicated in the next data. Most of the people are in favour of facilitating integration within the public education system (92.5%) equal labour rights (84.4%), access to public health system (81.3%). There are also positive attitudes towards issues regarded with religion and familiar reunification.
The immigration policy of the Zapatero’s government has been shaped for the 2005 decision to regularize 500.000 undocumented migrants. And every year at the beginning the government calculates how many migrants can enter Spain during this period taking into account the labour market requirements. It is the so called “contingent” the more important decision regarding with immigration policy. For this year the government has authorized to contract 180.000 migrant workers in their countries. This year administration has also included an estimation of how many migrants can enter Spain. And the conclusion is that 200.000 could be an approximate figure.

Discrimination and Racism

Integration policy is a key factor in order to avoid discrimination and to promote equality for minorities groups. In September 2005, the Spanish Government approved the III National Action Plan on Social Inclusion. It aims “to ensure equal opportunities by following the corresponding European strategies and specifically those regarding immigrants, ethnic minorities, and other people or groups”. And also the “Comunidades Autónomas” (regional governments) has its own integration plans. However there are still problems of discrimination in different levels according to the last EUMC report for 2005. It is clear with undocumented migrants who are probably the most vulnerable collective to suffer abuse in working conditions. EUMC report mentioned the situation of discrimination of migrant workers. They are mainly employed in the agricultural sector earning only 2 or 3 euros per day. Besides they had to pay for food, transport and accommodation. Advertisements using wording explicitly rejecting foreigners for housing and job offers were found in newspapers in spite of there are clear legislation to forbidden it. The report also mentions that the housing market reduce the range of housing options, particularly for new migrants. Overcrowded flats are often the result of sub-letting (that can go from sub-letting rooms to beds, chairs or even balconies). There is the renting of inappropriate spaces such as garages or derelict rural housing, or the reported renting to Romanian people of flats in Catalonia at 700 € per month for each person, are a reflection of the unprotected situation of immigrants in the housing market”. In regard to education, the report points out the great concentration of Roma and foreign students in public schools.

Racist Violence

The problem about this issue in Spain is the lack of official data collection on hate crimes and racist violence. However the EUMC report says that unofficial data are sufficient and good in the country. Movement against Intolerance issues a report on racism and xenophobic with a periodicity of 3 months. In a special report for 2005, it said that there are an estimation of 4.000 aggressions with hate motivation and lead by racist and neonazi organizations. The victims are migrants mainly from Magreb, sub-Saharan, Africa and Latin America, homeless, homosexuals, prostitutes, youth –hippies and punks, and also mosques, synagogues and left wing organizations headquarters are targeted.

The figures could be bigger in the current context in Europe where European Council and European Parliament ask for official data collection about hate crimes to the national governments. In those countries where it already exists use to implement specifics policies to prevent and combat intolerance on the contrary those where the problem is not even admitted the indifference is the policy. This is the situation in Spain.

The raxen report pointed out that there are aggressions and hate groups in more than 170 cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Zaragoza, Malaga and other smaller cities such as Parla, Tarrasa, El Ejido, Orihuela, Guardamar, etc. The regions more affected by the problem are Cataluña, Madrid, Valencia, Castilla y Leon, Andalucía and Murcia, although the phenomenon is extended to the whole country.

The raxen report reminded that in Spain there were more than 75 murdered motivated by hate since 1992 however the figure could be significantly higher. Even more, there were thousands of people seriously injured by hate attacks.

The raxen report research has detected more that 70 hate groups in Spain, racist, ultras, xenophobes, fascist and anti-Semites, a lot of them linked with extremist supporters in football. The membership of neo-Nazi movement and people committed with hate ideology is about 11.000 people according to Ministry of Interior or 15.000 according to an extreme-right web site.

Racist violence and crime perpetrations by public officials have been documented by NGOs. EUMC report mentioned an incident in January 2004 -a Colombian couple were insulted with racist expressions and seriously attacked by two police officers in the town of l'Hospitalet de Llobregat (Catalonia). In addition, a number of incidents have been documented concerning security guards on the Barcelona and Madrid undergrounds and trains.


Government has approved a new law on education that has made it obligatory to introduce a new subject on citizenship in primary and secondary schools in order to prevent racism, xenophobia and related intolerance, promoting tolerance, solidarity, and respect for human rights. Besides most of the NGO made educational projects fighting against prejudice and discrimination and promoting intercultural coexistence.

There is still a lot of work to do in order to manage diversity, avoid discrimination, or in the implementation of the legislation against hate crimes, but also there were great steps during the last years in which Spain has become an immigration country.


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Valentín González is vice-president of Movimiento contra la Intolerancia (MCI) and spokesman of MCI Andalucía. He is responsible for the cooperation with European institutions and co-ordinator of all the projects of MCI in Andalucía.