Two days ago, Spanish mountaineers met a 27 year old immigrant from Mali at an altitude of 3,392 m in the Spanish Sierra Nevada, near Granada, Andalucía. When they reported the young man to the police, he had already climbed up to 3,428 m before he was found and arrested by the Spanish Guardia Civil. He had no food or water provisions with him. He stands a good chance of being deported, back to Africa.
In a separate incident, 66 immigrants from North Africa, all male adults, where found and rescued yesterday by the Guardia Civil after they where localized in a patera (a precarious, low-floating wooden boats designed for shallow waters), 18 nautical miles south of the coast of Almería, also in Andalucía.
Immigration is in the news in Spain, on an almost daily level.
Immigration is a political issue, wherever one lives. But in Spain, where I live, it seems that immigration is perhaps a worry of paramount dimensions, changing the face of society more than in any other European country, and faster.
One commentator recently forecast that by 2015, one in every three Spaniards would be a foreigner.
In the year 2000, only 800,000 foreigners were registered with the authorities in Spain, me being one of them. Yes, I am a legally documented foreign resident in Spain.
But now, there are said to be 4 million foreigners living in the country, or about 10 percent of the total of a 42 million population. Hundreds of thousands of Europeans and other, illegal immigrants living (and working) here do not register with the authorities. There is an untold number of foreigners living in Spain without any official papers, a group that is called sin papeles (without papers). These undocumented immigrants are often from Morocco, sub-Saharan Africa, and/or South America. But it is the increase that is dramatic, not the actual number of foreigners living here. The percentage has risen by some 400 %, or quadrupled, over the last five years. No other European country has experienced such a rapid rise in its number of immigrants.
The Spanish government recently granted legal amnesty to some 750,000 undocumented immigrants, who could prove they had a work contract and had lived in the country for more than six months, a decision that has proved rather controversial.
Spain’s decision to offer the most liberal amnesty to immigrants of any European country has provoked more concern over the future for migration to Spain, and Europe. Critics say that this amounts to an opening of the flood-gates, while supporters claim the Spanish government is confronting one of the country’s biggest challenges.
But not every would-be immigrant makes it to the promised land. A report released by Spanish police last year estimated that between 2,000 and 3,000 lives are lost annually in hazardous sea-crossings. In April, 32 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, who had set out from the north of Mauritania in the direction of the Canary Islands, drowned when their boat sank. Last week, people from another boat were rescued who claimed that 50 more immigrants in their boat had died in the crossing over the open sea, their corpses having been thrown overboard.
Using walls and fences to protect territories is not a new idea. For centuries barriers have been built all over the world to separate emerging nations and to defend cities. But wire fences and other police measures designed to keep people from sub-Saharan Africa from seeking a better life in Europe, seem to be ineffective.
As circumstances change, immigrants find different ways to enter Spain. With more control on the Spanish border with Morocco, immigrants now leave Africa from other countries further south, such as Mauritania and Senegal. They use larger boats, called cayucos to travel about 800 kms north to the Canary Islands.
I don’t know what the answer might be. But I think that the so-called First World would not face this problem if resources and wealth would be more evenly distributed between the rich North and the poor South. Perhaps it is also the Colonial past that now makes its demands on Spain and other former empires, a hundred, two hundred, five hundred years after the event.
After all, wasn’t the Colonial Slave Trade an earlier form of migration, when it was inflicted on the African population, albeit in the opposite way?
Food for thought, that one.