- Title: FEATURE: Europe's glitter turns to dust for African migrants
- Date: 26th October 2006
- Summary: (SOUNDBITE)(Spanish) ANDRE NTIBARUSIGA, RED CROSS COORDINATOR OF THE IMMIGRATION PROGRAM IN MADRID, SAYING: "When they first arrive, they have a cultural shock as they don't speak Spanish. They have difficulties expressing themselves to Spaniards and that isolates them. That's why we, in the Red Cross, emphasize the importance of learning Spanish."
- Embargoed: 10th November 2006 12:00
- Topics: International Relations,Employment
- Reuters ID: LVA2KP5I5BL8F2Y1AQ6YAF9KRP3Y
- Story Text: For five years, Modou Gueye hitched, trekked and drove to get away from his native Senegal. Last August he crossed the Mediterranean in a rubber dinghy to reach what he thought was the promised land.
"I just want to tell you that the journey we took from Senegal to Spain is a journey of risk. It's as if somebody is holding a pistol to your head and has their finger on the trigger," Gueye said.
Now in Madrid, he lives temporarily in a Red Cross shelter house, along with dozens of other Africans.
"When I arrived in Madrid, do you know the first thing I felt? Do you know what I said? My dreams will be fulfilled," he said.
Hopes like these have led to a surge in African immigration to Spain, regarded by some as the soft underbelly of "Fortress Europe".
More than 24,000 Africans have arrived in the Canary Islands this year, five times more than in the whole of 2005.
Migrants risk a perilous journey from West Africa squeezed into uncovered wooden boats to get to the Canaries. Thousands are believed to have died trying. Instead of riches, many who survive find only hardship in Spain; condemned to a homeless existence unable to get jobs or state support without work permits.
"When they first arrive, they have a cultural shock as they don't speak Spanish. They have difficulties to express themselves to Spaniards and that isolates them. That's why we, in the Red Cross, emphasize the importance of learning Spanish," says Andre Ntibarusiga, Coordinator of the Red Cross Immigration Program in Madrid.
And many of them try hard. Assisted by the Red Cross and Non Governmental Organisations, hundreds of African immigrants attend Spanish classes every day and several cities of Spain. They combine the language lessons with a daily job hunt. Boubacar Sioly, who is about to complete his third month in Spain after a boat journey from Gambia, feels already comfortable with his new language but very nervous about his immediate future.
"Before I came to Spain, I thought it was going to be easier for me to get (working) papers, but It has been very difficult. I can be here for three months without a problem but I cannot stay here for three years without papers."
In a few days, Sioly will be asked to leave the Red Cross facilities and will be given an order from the Interior Ministry officials to leave Spain. He anticipates he will ignore the order.
His situation then would be very similar to many of the illegal immigrants who spend their days in a futile search for casual work in Madrid or simply hanging out in places like the surrounding area of Madrid's cathedral of La Almudena where dozens of migrants are seeing every morning sleeping on mattresses at the front yard of an unfinished building.
Because Sioly and his friends do informal jobs such as selling umbrellas on the streets, they don't look like the dazed and wide-eyed new arrivals shown on television news almost nightly.
Many others get luckier and find some construction work opportunities. However, it is not confirmed whether they are hired legally.
An estimated 800,000 "irregulars" like Abdul are living in a legal no man's land in Spain, a large proportion of them Latin Americans or Eastern Europeans.
Illegal migrants from Africa make up only a small part of Spain's migrant population but they must battle against more outspoken and visible racism to find a job.
Opinion polls show a large majority of Spaniards favour putting a brake on immigration, which has swollen the population by about 7.5 percent in the past 10 years alone.
Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has said immigration brings wealth to a country grappling with an ageing population, but his government has been embarrassed by accusations by neighbours that an amnesty it granted to illegal workers last year has, in fact, attracted more.
Last year, the government granted about 600,000 immigrants the right to live and work in Spain but now it says no further amnesties are planned.
Instead, Madrid has promised to repatriate all foreigners without proper documents -- people described as "cheats" by Zapatero. A much-delayed repatriation programme to Senegal was resumed this month.
Last year's amnesty was only the latest of several but, according to analysts, the government's tougher line means there will be no more.
- Copyright Holder: REUTERS
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