Fury at Spain's backflip on migrants
(Would-be immigrants are intercepted off the Canary Islands.
The Age (Melbourne)
Anthony Ham, Madrid
September 15, 2006
STRICT new measures by the Spanish Government to combat illegal immigration have prompted an angry backlash among leading union and business organisations, NGOs and, for very different reasons, the French Government.
Spain had granted a legal amnesty last year to hundreds of thousands of formerly illegal immigrants. The Government's change in direction comes in response to unprecedented numbers of people arriving by boat in Spain's Canary Islands from sub-Saharan Africa.
Some 24,000 would-be immigrants have arrived in the first eight months of this year, compared with just 4751 during 2005. More than 1300 have arrived in the past week alone.
In a dramatic shift for a government previously seen as lenient towards illegal immigrants, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said this week that, “Spain does not accept, nor will it accept clandestine and illegal immigration, simply because it is not immigration. It is a fraud to the immigrants, to workers and, obviously, to the rules of coexistence.”
Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said Spain would soon begin deporting all illegal immigrants, with mass repatriations expected to start within the week.
Similar statements by a Government spokesman that Spain “can't absorb any more illegal immigrants”, and that all those “who enter the country illegally will have to leave”, have particularly angered union groups.
Julio Ruiz, leader of CCOO, one of Spain's largest unions, warned that such comments “displayed great ignorance”.
“Spain continues to grow significantly above the EU average and is still in need of workers,” said Ignacio Diaz de Aguilar whose relief agency is co-ordinating the transfer of immigrants from the Canary Islands to the mainland.
Criticism has even come from the Government, with Secretary-General for Employment Valeriano Gomez saying “Spain will continue to need immigrants for a long time. Neither Spain nor European economies can afford to do without immigrant workers.”
The regional premier of the Canary Islands, whose social services have been overwhelmed by the arrivals has described it as Spain's worst humanitarian crisis since the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s.
The Spanish Government, which wants European Union help to tackle the problem, also came under fire from French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy. “You can't legalise 500,000 illegal immigrants and then call for help,” he said.