Spain: Economic woes bring increasing tensions

Spain: Economic woes bring increasing tensions

Incidents between immigrants and Spaniards are multiplying, the deterioration of the economy and the increase in unemployment brings them to compete in seasonal work.

In El Ejido, one of the most prosperous Spanish municipalities, with its 14,000 hectares of greenhouse crops (1.5 million tons of fruits nad vegetables), the wounds of xenophobia seem to open anew.

In February 2000, after three murders committed by two mentally ill Moroccans, some of the local population was thrown into the worst race riots in Spain.  Eight and some years later, the Spaniards, mostly rich farmers, and the some 30,000 day immigrants still look at each other with hostility.

With the economic crisis which hit Spain, the rivalry to find a job has intensified between the foreigner community and the local residents.  Many Spaniards who lost their jobs in construction are returning to their original jobs in agriculture.  As a result thousands of immigrants find themselves without work, left to their own devices.

A dozen kilometers away, in Roquetas del Mar, there's palpable tension between Spaniards and immigrants who come to work harvesting tomatoes and peppers.  In September, in this city of 73,000 inhabitants, a Spanish gypsy murdered a Senegalese, causing riots between the Sub-Saharans and Spaniards.  For weeks the police had to intervene in order to restore the calm in the region.

At the beginning of December in Mojonera, another village in the greenhouse area, a Moroccan murdered a Malian following a rough discussion.  For days, the Sub-Saharians attacked the Moroccan shops in retaliation.

In this region of Almeria, considered the orchard of Europe with some 2.8 million tons of fruit and vegetables grown annually, not a day goes by without an incident between immigrants of different origin or between Spaniards and immigrants.  According to the local NGOs and the SOC agricultural union, 20 immigrants were victims of physical aggression in a year.  Mohammed Torabi (42) says: "In Santa Maria Aguila (subrub of El Ejido), half a dozen youth beat me without reason with baseball bats and called me a dirty Arab."

Tarek, a Moroccan who's been living for ten years in El Ejido, denounced in turn the 'racist attacks', 'police wrongdoings', 'limits to freedom of expression'.  He's a member of an association of North African agricultural workers, Ouafa 2000, but, he says, they don't have any means, are refused premises and any municipal aid. 

Sitting down in the Parada bar with a glass of mint tea, he denounces the insults of the Spaniards and the attacks of the Sub-Saharans.

Except for passing through, we're told, no Spaniard frequents this place nor other Moroccan shops.  "In recent years, more or less subtly, they don't accept us any more in their bars, their game hall or their discos.  We live like two communities back to back.  The locals don't want us any more," explains a Moroccan immigrant who's been there for a while.

Not to mention the rivalries between the black community and the Moroccans.  "the Moroccan do everything so that we blacks can't find work.  But now, it's over, we must fight also for the right to work in the greenhouses," says Ousman (28), a Senegalese.  For two months he looked for work in different areas of Spain.  He didn't find a job, not in Valence in the citrus harvest, nor in Jaen, in the olive harvest.  "I thought that in the Almeria greenhouses I'll find a little work, but there's none any more," Ousman is upset.

The farmers are more and more wary now taking on illegals.  And then there's now on the job market the 'phantom' Spaniards, who abandoned agriculture in favor of better paying jobs in construction.  With the collapse of the real estate market, many are using their network of friends and family solidarity to find a job.

Juan Gonzalez, a tomato greenhouse farmer, say he hired two cousins from Roquetas who lost their jobs in the public works sector and have taken the place of foreigners.  According to the latest statics, immigrants represented 40% of new unemployed in the first half of 2008.  "It's a real problem confronting the country: what will do with all these immigrants who find themselves without work?" wonder Juan Miralles, president of the Almeria Acoge NGO.

Source: Figaro (French)

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