A debate about the integration of immigrants continued raging in Spain on Friday after the conservative opposition pledged to toughen integration requirements if it wins the 9 March elections.
The main opposition conservative People's Party (PP) was planning to orientate schools towards banning the Islamic headscarf, with the exception of the north African enclaves Ceuta and Melilla, which have large Muslim populations, PP sources said. The party would also oblige Muslim girls to attend gymnastics classes, Muslim women to allow male doctors to examine them and to take off their headscarves for identification photographs, the daily El Mundo reported.
PP leader Mariano Rajoy earlier said his party would make immigrants seeking to renew their residence permits sign contracts in which they agreed to respect Spanish laws and customs, to learn Spanish and to pay taxes, among other duties.
The idea was inspired by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who introduced a similar measure while he was interior minister.
The PP's elicited strong criticism from the governing Socialists, the far left, regionalist parties and immigrants' associations.
An agreement to respect laws was superfluous and it was difficult to define which Spanish customs were to be respected, according to legal experts interviewed by the daily El Pais.
The customs could at least not include bullfighting and football, some commentators quipped.
PP representative Miguel Arias Canete added fuel to the flames by describing immigrants as a "low-quality" work force which mainly contributed to the service sector on Thursday.
Immigrant waiters did not match the Spanish ones of old, Arias Canete complained, also describing Ecuadorian immigrant women as making use of hospital emergency services to have mammograms which would have cost them much more in their home country.
Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez accused the PP on Friday of despising those who were different and of inciting racism and xenophobia.
The PP's plans on the Islamic headscarf would create a problem where there was none, Vega said.
The headscarf question had been dealt with relatively well by schools so far, senior education official Alejandro Tiana said, warning that adopting rules only on the headscarf would mean treating Islam differently from other religious confessions.
Far-left leader Gaspar Llamazares accused the PP of wooing the far right with its "racist" discourse.
Kadhy Koita, a Senegalese campaigner against female circumcision and adviser to the conservative government of the Madrid region, said immigrants needed to respect Spanish laws if they wanted to be respected themselves.
The PP was trying to gain support among the working class living alongside immigrants in low-income neighbourhoods, which has traditionally voted for the Socialists, according to El Pais.
The Socialists and the PP are running practically neck-to-neck in polls.
Spain has about 5 million immigrants, more than twice as many as four years ago. They make up around 11 percent of the population and include more than 1 million Muslims.
There have been relatively few signs of hostility against foreigners even after the 2004 Islamist train bombings, which killed 191 people in Madrid, said Kamal Rahmouni, president of the Moroccan immigrants' association Atime.
Source: Expatica (English)