Thinking global, living local: Voices in a globalized world

Migrants in Spain: More remittances, worse conditions

Written by on . Published in Cash back on .

The amount of remittances sent from Spain is rising again after two years of fall. Even if this could imply an improvement of the situation of migrants, it actually proves the opposite: they send a bigger part of their loan. Over the top, aggressive right-wing positions against migrants are getting more common in the country.

According to the data published by the Spanish Central Bank in August, the amount of money sent back home by migrants in the first quarter of 2011 rose of about 16,7% compared to the same period of 2010. The top three receiving countries are Colombia, with more than €1 billion per year, Ecuador and Bolivia. Among the 10 most important recipient countries only three aren’t American: Romania, Morocco and China.

This evolution suggests a positive evolution in the lives of migrants in Spain. The economic situation is indeed not getting worse. In 2011 the number of immigrants having to live thanks of social welfare dropped by 3.8% compared to the last year.

However, according to Vladimir Paspuel, the president of the Spanish-Ecuadorian association Rumiñahui, in an interview with the Spanish daily El País, the increased flow of money is due to more savings one the part of migrants. They don’t think anymore of planning a future where they live, instead sparing a lot and accepting large restrictions, to send as much money as possible back home, where relatives may be hurt by the crisis.

El País takes the example of Verónica, a young Ecuadorian woman, who married an fellow-countryman in Spain with whom she has a child. After her husband lost his job and couldn’t find a new one during a year he decided to return to Ecuador with their son. There, the money sent by Verónica can afford a better living than in Spain. Verónica is now spending as little as possible in Spain to send the most money back home to her son and husband. In this case, the increase in remittances is actually the symptom of a defensive attitude among migrants, not the expression of economic security.

The economic crisis in Spain is shaking the whole society. The daydream crashed. Only five years ago, Spain believed it had gained access to the small circle of very highly developed and economically sustainable countries, but it had not. After the desperate last years, the Spaniards are finding a new interest in politics, including in opposition to migrants. New initiatives and parties are gaining support with their discourse of blaming migrants for the problems of the country. Furthermore, long time established parties are also adopting a new populist language to convince new voters.

Presenting migrants as a burden can take different forms. One is the voluntary return policy introduced at the end of 2008 by the government to decrease the number of foreigners in Spain. Any migrant who is unemployed or in a precarious economical situation could get financial help to get back to his country. In this case, the migrant gets their travel costs covered (up to about €400) and immediately receives 40% of his pending unemployment benefits, which on average represents €9,500. The remaining 60% are paid once he has arrived in his home country. The conditions for this include not being allowed to come back to Spain for the next three years. About 23,500 left.

Now, Convergència i Unió (Convergence and Union), the conservative regional party which governs in Catalonia, is going one step further. The Catalan minister for Immigration Xaver Bosch declared on 7 June that Catalan companies hand in hand with the Catalan government will offer migrants living in Spain a job in their home country. The same party decided at the beginning of June to forbid access to social care to all non-EU migrants who have been living in the region for less than six months. They also suggest making Catalan language lessons obligatory to any migrant wanting to gain unemployment benefits.

The Partido Popular, which was in power in Spain until 2003, distributed tracts in 2010 in Badalona, a city in the outskirts of Barcelona, equating Romanians with thieves. This tactic was maintained and was successful. On 22 May 2011, Badalona, which had been governed by communists and socialists for 30 years, elected a new PP mayor, Xavier García Albiol, who concentrated his election campaign on migration issues.

Ironically enough, García Albiol’s mother is herself one of the hundreds of thousands of migrants, who came to Catalonia from the southern region of Andalusia in the sixties and seventies. These poor workers and peasants were spitefully treated by many locals who arrogantly called them xarnegos, meaning greyhound. García Albiol is currently being prosecuted for xenophobia.

A PP Badalona poster, "suciedad" mean "filth".

The establishment parties’ betting on anti-immigrant sentiment finds an even greater echo in right-wing radical movements who have essentially based their political programs on it. The Plataforma per Catalunya (Platform for Catalonia) is the most successful. Founded in 2002, it “fights political correctness” and naturally, migration. Its slogan: “The local first”.

In some parts of the country where no migrants lived ten years ago, there 25% of the population is made up of foreigners. These include Vic, a city of Catalonia with about 40,000 inhabitants and where Plataforma per Catalunya was founded. This change in the socio-cultural matrix of the country has been very deep and very fast, especially in the richest part of the country, where most migrants live. A learning process started ten years ago, but the crisis came too fast and if the crisis continues xenophobic reactions could increase.

What once was the dream of having a better future in Spain is changing bitterly. Migrants find themselves in a society which doesn’t always welcome them and where they suffer intensively from the economic crisis. But still, some have economic security such as Verónica. She sends her money back home hoping to be able to build a positive environment for her family in the future in Spain. But if the economic situation doesn’t improve for her husband to also find a job in Spain, it is unsure how long she will stay in the country: A question which preoccupies a lot of migrants.


sergio.marx Twitter: sergiomarxSergio

French-Spanish journalist based in Berlin working on Germany, Eastern Europe and the EU. I don't like peanut butter.