Immigration and Catalonian separatism
THE influx of millions of immigrants into Spain over the past decade has transformed parts of Catalonia too, complicating the separatist picture and fanning the uglier side of nationalist rhetoric.
In 2000 there were just 900,000 foreign residents in Spain. But last year the figure had risen to close to six million, or 12 per cent of the population. The biggest single group by nationality is from Romania, followed by Morocco, Ecuador and Great Britain.
Those in Catalonia face an immediate problem: the language. This has put pressure on the education system as immigrant children have to learn Catalan before they can be taught anything else.
Inevitably the bulk of immigrants headed for Barcelona, but it is in some of the smaller towns, such as Vic, Badalona, Salt, El Vendrell and Tortosa, where the impact has been felt most and where there has been most conflict. In Vic, where 24 per cent of the population are immigrants, the town council voted to prevent illegal immigrants from registering as residents as a means of denying them access to health and other public services. The decision was overruled by the Catalan government.
South-west of Barcelona, El Vendrell has 36,000 inhabitants, of whom 17 per cent are immigrants. “I came here in 1996 before most of the Moroccans arrived,” says Zineba, from Morocco. “I don’t wear the hijab so I didn’t attract attention and I felt generally well-received. But this sudden influx after 2000 was a shock for a small town like El Vendrell and now newcomers are not so welcome.
“Here they don’t distinguish between our religion and our nationality. They talk about Muslim bombs,” says Sahia Oulad Omar, who is also Moroccan. “What do they mean when they say they want us to integrate? We make a big effort to integrate, including learning the language.” Zineba points out that Amazigh, a Berber language, is now the third most widely spoken in Catalonia.
Gabriela is from Romania and lives in a village outside El Vendrell. “I’ve been made to feel more welcome by Catalans than, for example, Andalusians,” she said. “I’ve never felt rejected. I’ve been here 13 years and I feel at home.”
Uruguayan Fanny Canavese, a spokeswoman for Dones del Mon, a group that promotes integration, agrees that learning the language is vital. “We all know each other because we met in Catalan class,” she says. “You have to know the language if you want to integrate. People come here with a different culture and when cultures join together it’s enriching for everyone.”
Of the 220,000 residents of Badalona, Catalonia’s third city, some 15 per cent are immigrants. The incumbent mayor, Xavier Garcia Albiol, is running for re-election on a platform that calls for immigrants who commit crimes to be expelled, a ban on burqas and niqabs and the withholding of social services to anyone with less than 18 months’ residency.
“The majority of immigrants come here wanting to work and integrate,” Garcia Albiol says.
On a campaign visit to the La Salut district last week he greeted residents saying: “Haven’t we done a good job of cleaning up?” referring to flats previously occupied by Gypsies that the council has boarded up. He rejects suggestions that these references have racist overtones.
“When we speak about ‘cleaning up’ an area we’re talking about ridding it of people who create conflict with their anti-social behaviour,” he says.
— The Guardian, London