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Spain’s woes fail to deter Africans from life-threatening crossing

Why are immigrants still willing to risk their lives to come to a country that has a faltering economy and Europe's highest jobless rate?

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The European economy is going through a rollercoaster ride right now, with Spain one of the biggest victims of the upheaval. And since German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s invitation earlier this year to Spanish professionals – particularly engineers – to go and find work in her country, many Spaniards are looking abroad as they consider their future. And yet, boatloads of Africans still make the incredibly dangerous journey across the Gibraltar Strait to the shores of Andalusia.

The tale of immigration across the Strait of Gibraltar is one of desperation and death. Photo: Landahlauts.

The first half of this year saw around 1,000 come to the Spanish mainland (arrivals in the Canary Islands have dropped heavily). That doesn’t sound like a massive number, but the high season for crossing is only just getting underway, as reflected by the rash of “patera” headlines in the newspapers in recent days. Then there are the dozens – or hundreds – who drown during the crossing when the sea gets too rough, or the boat fails them. Numbers are heavily down on the middle of the last decade, when the Spanish economy was at its peak, but authorities have reported that this year figures are up compared to 2010.

Why do they keep coming to a country that has hardly any economic growth and Europe’s highest unemployment rate?

“Economic crisis is probably not something they take into consideration when they make the decision of undertaking this life-changing journey,” Ana Trías Diez, who worked closely alongside African immigrants for eight years as the legal advisor at an NGO in Madrid, told Iberosphere.

“What really motivates all immigrants, not just African immigrants, to make the decision to move to another country is they’re basically pursuing a dream, just like people used to pursue the American dream.”

She points out that many Central Americans still take enormous risks in going to the United States, even though that country is suffering its own economic problems.

In the summer of 2008, a large number of African men, many of them Nigerians, arrived in the area of Madrid where I live. It transpired they had chosen a particularly bad time to come. Spain’s economy was already showing signs of a downturn and the world recession helped ensure it was a fully-fledged crisis. Exactly three years on, many of those immigrants are still barely earning a living by standing outside supermarkets and other shops, waiting for customers to give them spare change.

As the third anniversary of his arrival loomed, one of them, called Benedict, confirmed what Ana Trías Diez had told me. “I feel maybe if I come to Spain maybe everything’s going to be all right,” he said. “With God everything’s possible.”

Benedict hasn’t found a job since arriving here, but he doesn’t tell his family in Nigeria about how bad things are. Trías Diez explains why:

“Immigrants who are here, even if they’re going through a very, very rough period – a lot of people are living on the street – they will never admit that to their family at home,” she says. “Either because they don’t want them to worry about them, or simply maybe because they don’t want to admit that their trip has been a failure.”

And so the “dream” of a European paradise is perpetuated. Of course, a few coins in euros might be a big improvement on what many of these immigrants earned in their home countries. But without family and a legal job they lack the support anyone should be entitled to, wherever they are. A clampdown on these illegal migrants in both Europe and Africa is one of the reasons less of them now come, but it is surely time that they were fully informed, before their departure, of what awaits them after they have risked their lives.





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Published: Aug 8 2011
Category: Politics
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
Short URL: http://iberosphere.com/?p=3416
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3 Comments for “Spain’s woes fail to deter Africans from life-threatening crossing”

  1. Maybe us stopping exploiting Africa could do the job better than a negative PR campaign nobody will listen to?

  2. Why are immigrants still willing to risk their lives to come to a country that has a faltering economy and Europe’s highest jobless rate?
    The answer is in the article itself…
    “Immigrants who are here, even if they’re going through a very, very rough period – a lot of people are living on the street – they will never admit that to their family at home,” she says. “Either because they don’t want them to worry about them, or simply maybe because they don’t want to admit that their trip has been a failure.”
    What I can’t understand is the British immigrant who comes to Spain and thinks he can pick up a job as a plumber/ decorator/ electrician/ hairdresser, even though he can’t speak Spanish, has no qualifications, doesn’t know the present unemployment rate, and has 500 quid in his pocket. Why do these people, who can’t make it in the UK think they can make it in Spain???

  3. Illegal Africans coming over to Spain is a very real problem. What almost all of them do is come on a “patera”, a boat made by themselves, to Spanish shores. The economy in Spain is in a crisis right now, but the Africans don’t seem to care, because they’re pursuing a dream. Immigration can have both positive and negative consequences. The positive part is that they can work, but the bad part is that some of them end up stealing.
    There is a way this robberies can be controlled. Right now, whenever the government catches them they send them back. The solution is to offer work visas, but first make them go through a screening process, where they are asked questions focused on finding out if they are really willing to work or not. Then they could become productive for society.
    I’ve lived in Barcelona for 15 years now, and i remember when it was really uncommon to be robbed by an African,because there were very few,whereas now, if someone is robbed, Africans are blamed straight away. People should try to be more open-minded, because many of the Africans actually come willing to work even if Spain isn’t doing doing that well economically, African countries such as Morocco are doing worse, and that is something to have in mind before saying they are all lazy people.

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