Spaniards Getting Tired Of Surging Immigration

Spaniards getting tired of surging immigration
Reuters–Published: Wednesday, 31 May, 2006, 11:31 AM Doha Time

By Ben Harding

SPAINS long tolerant attitude to immigration seems to be hardening amid constant news of African boat people and opposition charges leaky borders have led to a rise in violent crime.

A poll conducted for Mondays El Mundo newspaper showed 70% of Spaniards think the country has too many migrants, 10 percentage points more than a similar poll just five months ago.

The poll showed 70% also thought the governments amnesty for about 600,000 illegal immigrants last year had prompted a five-fold increase in the number of Africans landing illegally in the Canary Islands.

Spains Socialist government is now struggling to contain this flow of rickety wooden vessels, sending more patrol boats to the Canaries and demanding help from Brussels.

It has also moved more police to Catalonia, where officials blame an explosion in violent burglaries on east European gangs. Kidnappings in Madrid have also surged.

One Spanish newspaper headline declared: 30% of killings and injuries the work of foreign criminals, and numerous stories have detailed how homeowners have been bound and slashed with knives to force them to give up valuables.

The conservative Popular Party (PP) has accused the government of losing control of Spains borders and unleashing a crime wave, leading one Socialist to liken PP secretary-general Angel Acebes to French far-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen.

But on Monday Acebes renewed his attack.

Spain is paying the price for immigration that is uncontrolled and disorganised, he said.

Attitudes towards migrants in Spain almost completely white and Catholic until the 1990s were long tolerant.

Support for far-right parties is low and violence against ethnic minorities rare, even in the wake of Islamist bombings in Madrid two years ago.

As recently as 2001, there were 1mn foreigners here legally. But the country is now the European Unions number one migrant destination and government figures show 2.7mn legal migrants in December 2005 39% more than in 2004.

Carlos Malo de Molinos, head of pollsters Sigma Dos who conducted the El Mundo poll, said the real number of legal and illegal immigrants could be over 5mn more than 10% of Spains 44mn-strong population.

Theres been a spectacular rise in recent years, he told Reuters, adding that more Spaniards now thought the migrant amnesty was a mistake.

The law was generally well-received at first but perceptions have changed, and now with the avalanche of immigrants in the Canaries as well… he said.

Migrants, many of whom come from Latin America, Morocco and Eastern Europe, are vital in filling gaps in the service sector, becoming builders for a booming construction industry and by taking menial jobs Spaniards no longer want.

Almost every night Spanish television shows a fresh batch of sub-Saharan Africans arriving on beaches in the Canaries over 9,000 have made the dangerous voyage so far this year.

In Spain immigrants are generally well received and are seen as a necessity, above all Europeans and Latin Americans. But Africans get a worse reception. Its cultural differences, its language and religion, said Malo de Molinos. Reuters