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Paul Clearwater: The Eclipse Of The Spanish Sun

The Eclipse Of The Spanish Sun.

By Paul Clearwater

It’s not new that Spain is seen as the gate of entrance to African immigrants who come in search of a new life escaping, in many cases, dictatorships, war, hunger, misery and poverty. No, it’s not new; Spain is seen as the access point for the Promised Land of economical security promised in Europe, not only by Africans but also South Americans and English retiree’s seeking the Spanish sun to name a few.

Africa has always supplied a steady source of immigrants to the shores of Europe with people from former colonies. Over the years there has been a steady decrease in economical assistance from the former colonial countries. Take France for example, during the 1920’s and 30’s French sovereignty covered 8.6% of the world’s land area, contributing to France’s wealth. You would think that France owed a lot to its former colonies, but it doesn’t seem that way.

With the break-down of these former colonies many colonialists have returned the favour by travelling to France and settling there. This, and the effects of globalisation among others, has brought about an explosion of immigration, in many cases illegal, as many former colonialists or those seeking refuge have come to Europe looking for a better life, Spain being one of the access points.

But now many illegal immigrants resort to more extreme means in achieving their goals as immigration laws become tighter. There has been extensive coverage of the recent hoards of immigrants who have climbed the 3 to 6 meter high fences separating Morocco from the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta, culminating in several deaths and mass repatriation as a result.

All of this has brought about bad press for Spain as a nation. Humanitarian groups are angered at the treatment of those who were recently caught by Moroccan police and who were returned to areas outside of Morocco. As a result Madrid has temporarily abandoned the deportation of illegal immigrants. It has been reported that around 1000 immigrants were transported to the desert outside Morocco a few weeks ago, left there without water, food or shelter. Spanish news programmes broadcasted handcuffed detainees, pleading for mercy before they were then driven away to unknown destinations.

But this bad press has a positive side to it. Not unlike what is happening in the streets of night time France at the moment, immigration and the issues surrounding it have been brought to light rather than ignored. The problems facing many immigrants are many and varied, but there is one that you can’t help but notice and that’s assimilation. It may be true that immigrants have difficulties in assimilating with their adopted country but the other side of the coin is in operation also. Many “natives” of Spain and France for example are not helping with the problem for they don’t accept difference and change as well as their new compatriots do. It is this very protectionist policy disguised as patriotism that causes polemical situations.

As has been said, this situation is not new, the illegal crossing of immigrants, especially those from Sub-Saharan countries, into Spain. It has only recently hit the headlines en masse however. The situation is extremely polemical and complex, not only for Spain, but for Europe and the world alike.

One of the most thorny issues facing Spain and Europe is that the hopeful immigrants usually discard their passports or identification so that when they are caught, whether it be on the Moroccan side or the Spanish side of the border, the police don’t know who they are or where they are from, they essentially become people without a nation, so the officials don’t know where to send them to. The immigrants who cross into the Spanish enclaves need only to put a foot on Spanish soil to be processed, and this can take months.

There also exists a law which makes it very difficult to repatriate children. Unfortunately, this has brought about many attempts by parents of sending their children away to other countries. As the law stands, it is necessary to find the child’s parents before they can be repatriated, this process is lengthy not to mention costly.

The Human Rights Watch web site states that: “Spain has an obligation under both national and international law to ensure that all those on its territory who wish to apply for asylum are given the opportunity to do so. This means that all those detained upon entering Ceuta and Melilla should be provided with clear information, in a language they can understand, about their right to apply for asylum and the necessary guidance as to the procedure to be followed. Spain and Morocco have an obligation not to send people to countries where they would face the risk of persecution or torture, or where their lives would otherwise be at risk”. But in many cases this obligation or, set of rules has not been met.

The situation is made worse by the relationship between Ribat and Madrid, which has never been great; it has always been reasonably shaky and at times closed. Spain’s urban enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla and the tiny, uninhabited island of Perejil raise touchy nationalist issues among Moroccans. This relationship or, lack of, doesn’t solve much, especially now when both countries need to work together to create some kind of solution.

It is not only the thorny issue of Melilla and Ceuta that troubles Spain. Spain’s proximity to Africa (in southern Spain the Gibraltar Straight is only 13km’across), and with The Canary Islands to the west of Africa, is a tempting passage for thousands of Africans every year. Crossing the Gibraltar Straight or over to the Canary Islands is a perilous voyage. The immigrants cross in vessels that are, in some cases, barely sea worthy. The ferrying of immigrants in boats is a dirty business mainly because the immigrants pay huge amounts of money to ruthless owners of flimsy vessels who at times only sail some of the way telling their cargo to jump and swim the remainder of the way. Many drown and it seems like a routine for La Guardi Civil to collect bodies from the shores of Southern Spain. Each year the Spanish police turn back a multitude of boats packed with Africans.

An announcement was made by the Spanish defence Minister Jose Bono late in August that boats will no longer be intercepted by Spanish navy boats unless they request help. This was met with fierce criticism from the PP opposition party because they said that it goes against the grain of the European Union’s Immigration policies. This is one of the problems facing Spain; they aren’t receiving enough support from the E.U., which gives rise to another dilemma facing Europe, that of its fragmented politics and internal bickering when it is supposed to be working together.
It is not just a Spanish predicament but a European one, if not a world wide issue. It is within the realms of European responsibility, for Spain, after all, is but an access point for immigrants who are spread far and wide throughout Europe.

So, what are the answers to this worldwide issue of immigration, legal or illegal? There is no simple answer, that’s the long and short of it. Steps are being taken by world leaders, but it seems that getting past the rhetoric is another matter.

The G8 meeting in Edinburgh last July made sweeping announcements, saying they would give more aid to Third World countries, they also talked about canceling debt. But while G8 sanctioned the debt deal, it's still up to the creditors - chiefly the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank - to write-off their part of the debt. G8 did state that they would give 50 billion a year in aid, but they will delay their payment until 2010.

One of the biggest problems is trade. The US and Europe need to open their markets to developing countries, but this act would inevitably undermine the profits of farmers in rich countries. These protectionist policies need to be looked at when it comes to supplying aid to under developed nations. The World Trade Organization summit in December should ideally look into these issues, although action may be a while away.

There is no easy solution to this polemical situation that affects us all. It is in the hands of worldwide leaders and those who issue and cancel debt. It seems the only way we go about it now is to treat the situation rather than cure it. There is always hope, but hope deals with the future, with aspirations and ambition, we need to start making some decisions and acting upon them now, but no-one seems to want to take responsibility or to make a mistake. Spain is at the forefront of it all, but this is only the gateway to a myriad of problems involving immigration today.


Paul Clearwater is currently living in Barcelona, Spain. He is a contributor to "Catalunya Today" an English newspaper in Barcelona and a contributor to Barcelona Reporter, a web site of news and views in English.

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