Fences cannot hold back the wind

How we in Spain shield ourselves from strangers
The shift forward in Fortress Europe
Repatriation agreements and inter-state cooperation
“The largest mass grave in the world"
Treatment of migrants by the state
Visa obligations
Work opportunities and access to social benefits
Health services
The reaction in society to “illegal" immigration

Antiquated methods of work combined with high-tech

How we in Spain shield ourselves from strangers
On the south side of the Mediterranean, thousands of young people have only one wish: they dream of a sea passage taking them over the Straits of Gibraltar to Spain. It is above all the huge economic gap between the continents of Europe and Africa which drives more and more inhabitants of the Maghreb and other African countries to seek a better life, leave their homeland and try their luck in the north. With increasing economic globalization, the growing importance of tourism and international relations, and the rapid spread of telecommunications, a paradoxical situation has arisen: while the rich countries in the north become more and more cooperative and move closer to each other, the practical possibility of getting there becomes more and more limited for a large section of the African population.
Instead of reacting to increasing emigration efforts with a coherent policy and thereby regulating this-movement sensibly, the European states are meeting the challenge, above all, by strengthening their borders. Spain has also been affected by the increasing 'harmonization' in European refugee and migration policies, which are shifting 'fencing-in' measures and repression to the centre of attention. However, there are pecularities in the Southern European states and regions which deserve closer observation. Whereas the Spanish government has recently shown itself determined to keep immigrants away from its shores by all possible means, there is a deeply anchored feeling in the population, especially amongst people living close to Gibraltar, that it is impossible to stop them coming - fences can't stop the wind!
The following article will attempt to describe the specific conditions of current migratory movements from Africa to Southern Spain, and the reaction to this by the government, as well as the governed. [back to top]

The shift forward in Fortress Europe
The Straits of Gibraltar not only separate Spain from Morocco, but two continents quite different in economic, political and cultural respects. At their narrowest point the straits measure only fourteen kilometres, which makes the southern Spanish provinces the target for 'uncontrolled' immigration, purely on geographical grounds. The port on the southerly tip of the Spanish coast, Algeciras (Province of Cadiz), is one of the most important South European trading centres. Countless ferries shuttling daily between the two shores connect Algeciras to the two Spanish enclaves Ceuta and Mellila, on Moroccan soil. People wishing to reach Europe without a visa or entry permit have two possibilities of landing on the Iberian peninsula. They either choose the route via the two Spanish enclaves, or attempt to cross the straits directly.
When potential immigrants from Morocco, Algeria or other African states manage to enter Ceuta or Melilla without being checked, many of them discover that the next step, namely crossing to Spain, is far more difficult. The Spanish authorities make sure that the ('the paperless') cannot head in that direction, even though they are officially on Spanish soil. Even if they succeed in crossing, on the other side of the straits - whether in Algeciras, Almeria or Malaga - further checks and strict control by border guards and police are waiting for them. Meanwhile, more and more migrants in Ceuta and Melilla, hoping for legal status and the opportunity to travel on, have to spend a long time in overflowing camps. The situation in the camps, which have expanded dramatically in recent years, is marked by inadequate sanitary facilities, lack of drinking water and generally poor provisions. The food, for example, is insufficient and not at all adapted to the needs of different religious groups.
The Calamocarro camp in Ceuta, originally intended for 400 people, is now notorious all over Spain for its unendurable living conditions. The fact that up eo 2,000 men, women and children from Algeria and other African states have been locked in there for periods of up to six months or more has brought protests again and again from human rights organizations and NGO's. The La Granja camp near Melilla has an equally disastrous reputation. When the move to a new camp was delayed in September 1999, the inhabitants lost all patience and riots broke out, leaving the camp practically demolished. The installation of refugee camps in the Spanish enclaves is just one more step in the shift forward of Fortress Europe onto the African continent. To protect the town of Ceuta from 'undesirable immigrants', the Spanish government has spent some 5 billion pesetas (ca. 63 Mio. DM) on expanding frontier reinforcemenes. The previous fence has proved to be too full of holes. As the technical installation electrifying the fence had often failed, countless people climbed over it, or simply cut the wiring with pliers. In April 1999, for example, a young woman gave birth to a child in Ceuta after climbing the fence; she was nearly eight months pregnant. With the help of a three billion peseta budget (ca. 38 Mio. DM), half of which derives from EU funds, the fencing in of these enclaves is to be further advanced. A three-metre high barbed wire fence and surveillance apparatus such as videocameras, thermal cameras and night-vision instruments are planned. [back to top]

Repatriation agreements and inter-state cooperation
For years now, Spain has been trying to enlist Morocco's help in its immigration policy. This has proved difficult, however, because of the virulent political and economic conflicts between the two countries (Morocco's claim to Ceuta and Melilla, arguments about Spain's role in the West Saharan war, conflicting interests in the farming and fishery sectors). Spain has repeatedly demanded stricter exit control from its African neighbour, as well as a repatriation agreement for Moroccan citizens and all others who entered Spain 'illegally’ via Morocco; this was finally signed in 1992. Although financial incentives were included in the agreement, Spain criticized its implementation sharply in the first few years and accused the Moroccan police of lack of enthusiasm and corruption. At present, the cooperation in deporting Moroccan citizens appears to be working satisfactorily from the Spanish point of view, not however with regard to the repatriation of other migrants, especially those from Central Africa.
A number of governments, for example the Algerian, refuse to cooperate in identifying refugees caught in Spain. In December 1998, a further bilateral agreement between Spain and Morocco was signed, with the aim of expanding police cooperation in the fight against uncontrolled immigration. A proportion of the migrants in the camps in Melilla and Ceuta have since been allowed to set foot on the Spanish mainland. In 1998 alone, 3,000 of them entered the country; altogether it has amounted to more than 5,000. Whereas they had no papers of any kind at first, most of them now hold 'travel documents' which permit them to seek work. [back to top]

“The largest mass grave in the world"
With the expansion of Fortress Europe, the Straits of Gibraltar have become a deathtrap for countless refugees and migrants and is therefore described again and again as the world's greatest mass grave' or 'the cemetery of the Mediterranean'. Our organization (Algeciras Acoge/ Algeciras welcomes) has also repeatedly drawn attention in demonstrations to the shockingly high number of refugees who have paid with their lives attempting to cross the straits. As a result of the increasingly clandestine nature of attempts to enter Spain, it is not possible tO make exact assessments of the extent of this secret immigration.
It is roughly estimated that more than a thousand people have up to now been drowned trying to cross in the Straits of Gibraltar in 'pateras' (little fishing boats). As a rule they have no life-belts or radio equipment, so they are exposed to wind and weather and cannot call for help in emergency. They are the 'silent travellers' on the sea, and have to remain concealed, and try to slip through undetected. Very often the tiny boats collide with the giant cargo ships, oil rankers, ferries, or container ships which cruise round the Mediterranean in their thousands. The numbers who have died in this way will never be known, as their bodies are seldom found. Only a few are washed up on the Spanish or Moroccan shores.
In the future too, more people will die at our front door, as they have no legal or safe way to enter Fortress Europe. In June 1999, a small boat - bouncing helplessly on the sea with fourteen women on board - was stopped in the middle of the straits. They all came from Morocco and were immediately deported by the Spanish border police.
The following figures were published by the Spanish Ministry of the Interior in June 1999 and are based on particulars given by survivors: 1998: 557 pateras stopped, 75 people reported missing, 155 rescued from drowning, 5 corpses found. 1999 January - June): 137 pateras stopped, 10 people reported missing, 67 people rescued from drowning, 5 corpses discovered. In the last few years, not only Sin Papeles, but also large amounts of hashish have been found on pateras. Although the migrants had nothing to do with the attempted drug smuggling, they were arrested by the Spanish police, presented as dangerous criminals to the public and some of them sentenced to long prison sentences. In many instances, the Spanish police no longer differentiate between the crime of smuggling migrants and that of 'illegal' drug smuggling. The growing reports of an increase in the number of drowned and missing people led however to a wave of sympathy, despite all attempts at criminalization. On August 6, 1998, for example, the press reported that 38 bodies had been found three sea miles from Melilla, a fact which had been concealed for over a month by both the Spanish and Moroccan authorities.
The 'pact of silence' on the human tragedy in the Mediterranean, maintained by the authorities over a long period of time, was finally broken. In June 1999, the campaign “No more deaths in the Straits of Gibraltar" was launched. The objective of these activities, organized by an alliance of Spanish and Moroccan NGO's, was to warn potential migrants of the appalling dangers of crossing in small boats and explain their basic rights to them. As the organized crossing in boats can sometimes cost up to 200,000 pesetas (2,600 DM), more and more migrants, among them many children, are attempting to enter Spain by other means.
A popular method is to hide in the cabin or cargo space of a lorry travelling on the big ferries between Ceuta and Algeciras. A growing number of 'illegal passengers' has been discovered on container ships of on the supply ships transporting drinking water to Ceuta. Only a few months ago, a handful of refugees from Sierra Leone were captured on the tiny island of El Hierro, which indicates a new route from Africa via the Canary Islands to Spain. Where a large demand exists, there are always commercial suppliers, who, organized mostly in widespread networks, are always pondering on new routes to Europe. El Roto, an Andalusian cartoonist, made this point: “You just have to turn into a commodity, then you have no trouble coming here". [back to top]

Treatment of migrants by the state
Even if the total number of migrants living in Spain is insignificant by comparison with other West European states (estimates place it at 600,000'legals'and 300,000 'illegals'), Spain has still developed in the meantime from being a traditional emigration to an immigration state. The reaction of the Spanish authorities over the last few years has been mainly to keep as many undesirable people as possible away from their border, or create the means to expel them at once. The boat refugees picked up in the Mediterranean form the bulk of those deported. According to statistics published the Policia Nacional in 1997,98.5% (22,230 out of 22,572) of those deported were Moroccans.
Most refugees who succeed in remaining undiscovered on entry try to leave the southern coastal region as soon as possible. Their preferred destinations are the home towns of relatives or friends, or areas where they can best find work: the provinces of Murcia or Almeria, Catalonia, Castile, or further north in France, Italy or other EU countries. For many migrants, Andalusia is too close to Africa. The Law on Aliens (Ley organica 7/1985, 1 Julio, sobre deredhos y libertades de los extranjeros en Espana) basically regulates the residence of migrants in Spain. It dates from 1985 but is to be updated in the year 2000, although none of those affected expect any improvement in their living conditions. The Aliens Law names the 'conditions for legal residence' and defines 'offences against these regulations'. In the penal code, fines of up to 2,000,000 pesetas (ca. 25,000 DM) as well as prison sentences from six months to three years are to be imposed on people found residing 'illegaly’ in Spain.
Identity checks in the interior of the country are part of routine measures taken by the police. Because many local people are familiar with the arbitrary police practice of demanding identity papers without a concrete reason (it reminds them of the Franco era), there has been repeated criticism in the past of increased surveillance and the growing presence of police on the streets. The Brigada de Extranjeros, a very well-equipped unit, is responsible for rapidly expanding number of controls in streets, railway and bus stations, or in soup kitchens run by state welfare, places where people are concentrated who do not look 'Spanish'. The police are not allowed, however, to simply deport people already in Spain and without papers.
In most cases they are taken on arrest to the commissariat responsible; here, after checking their identity, 'official proceedings on voluntary departure' are instigated, fixing the period within which those arrested must leave the country. After that they are generally released. The possibility exists of appealing against this expulsion order on stating humanitarian grounds (children, relatives, other social relationships) so as to obtain an extension of the time-limit. Most migrants do not do this, because they aim to be more careful in future in avoiding the state control network. If there is, however, another arrest after expiry of the time-limit, official deportation proceedings are instigated (Procedimiento de Expulsi¢n) together with the court decision as to whether those concerned should go to a deportation camp (centro de internamiento) or not.
The police report is decisive for this There are officially six internment centres in Spain, with SS0 places, built in 1985 and run by the Ministry of the Interior. Although the authorities repeatedly stress that they are not prisons, internment regulations issued in 1998 put the unendurable living conditions in these camps (including limitation of contacts and freedom of movement) on a firm legal basis. If migrants without papers are caught, in many cases they can avoid internment, if for example they can prove they have a fixed address. If those affected do not appeal against imminent deportation, the orders become official and their names recorded in the state bulletin (Boletin Oficial Esp.). This then leads eventually to further arrests - with few exceptions - then to placement in a camp and expulsion to the country of origin. On the whole, the main aim of the authorities seem to insist in demonstrating their ability to act, to keep the situation under control and not so much to issue as many deportation orders as possible.
Whereas the number of checks and arrests has almost doubled in the last few years (in 1996 it was 20,690, and in 1998, 40,710) the number of deportations carried out has remained constant (1996: 4,800, 1988: 5,525). There may well be different reasons that the legal possibilities for deportation from Spain have not yet been fully implemented. On the one hand, violent expulsions have been repeatedly criticized, and on the other, they cost the Spanish state a great deal of money if they involve flying migrants out escorted by police officials. In addition there is the fact that Sin Papeles can be very useful as temporary cheap labour, or it is assumed Spain is merely a transit country for many migrants, who with or without expulsion orders will travel on to countries in the north. A further source of information on 'illegals' already living in Spain is provided by the (rejected) applications for work or residence permits (the so-called 'cupo'). In 1999, for example, only 30,000 out of 94,819 applications were positively decided in Spain.
This did not however lead to a wave of deportations, even though the names of those rejected are known. Moreover, migrants can only be interned for a maximum of 40 days. Any people who are not expelled within this period because of unknown citizenship, or refusal to accept deportees by the country of origin, or lack of transportation facilities, have to be released. [back to top]

Visa obligations
The phenomenon of 'illegal' immigration was first discussed and made public in 1991, after the government had introduced visa obligations for people from Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. Up to this point Moroccans could visit Spain without any restrictions; for example, to earn money by seasonal work at harvest time. Many Moroccan students chose this way of financing their studies in their homeland. After the restriction on freedom of travel and residence, organized mafia-like groups have come on the scene. Beside these, we find corrupt administrators and policemen who deal in visas and enrich themselves at the expense of the migrants. And then there are countless Spanish businesses who employ people without papers simply because they are so easy to exploit. [back to top]

Work opportunities and access to social benefits
Without a residence permit, migrants in Spain cannot sign any contracts. Even if an employment is legal and social contributions are made (which is not foreseen legally, but still happens) no claim to state benefits such as unemployment benefit or medical care is established. It is possible to appeal to the labour courts against an employer, be it for false calculation of working hours, too low wages, or no wages at all. But most migrants do not take advantage of even these minimal rights, as they have to come out into the open and thus endanger further residence. The 'illegal' employment of people without papers takes place in many sectors in Spain.
Work done by sin papeles has one thing in common: the working conditions are bad, the pay is low, they have no rights and no social recognition. Many women without papers work as domestics or end up as prostitutes. Above all in farming it is normal to employ 'illegals' who can be deployed in various regions and provinces depending on the time of year and harvest. Often the migrants turn to solidarity organizations or Caritas so that they can pay their transport costs to the next place of work.
Other 'sin papeles' try to get by with odd jobs or petty crime. Regular work contracts, however, require not only the right of residence; the Spanish ministry of labour must also confirm that the job in question cannot be done by an unemployed Spaniard.
According to a government survey in 1996, only 55% of (legal) migrants from non EU countries had steady employment in Spain; only half of them had a written labour contract and their wages were on average lower than those of local people. The Spanish government tries anew every year to control the number of such labour contracts via contingents - the so-called cupo. For the year 1999, 30,000 work permits, valid for one year, were issued for help in home and harvest; they could, however, be extended. From the 176,022 migrant work permits issued at the beginning of 1999,60,939 (34.5%) went to women, most of whom (32,883) came from Central and South America.
Female domestics in particular, have to endure a working day of up to 16 hours, for monthly wages often lying below 100,000 pesetas (ca. 1,250 DM). A new agreement with Morocco provides that in future, ca. 300,000 Moroccan men per year may apply for entry visas tied to temporary work in the farming or building sectors (areas where the toughest conditions exist). On termination of their work they must leave Spain at once. The Spanish government will take over the Costs of transport, accommodation and medical care during their stay. Similar agreements are to be reached with Columbia, Ecuador, Romania, Poland and Mali. [back to top]

Health services
Principally, migrants in Spain have, independently of their legal status, the fundamental right to free treatment in hospital in cases of emergency. Usually documents are not checked at the hospital on grounds of the medical code. But that is all: the right to continuous or out-patient treatment does not exist. To keep track of the situation and regain a minimum of control over it (that concerns, among other areas, AIDS and epidemic prevention) metropolitan administrations in particular, in cooperation with humanitarian organizations like Medicus Mundi and Caritas, have signed agreements for the establishment of health centres. There are so few of these stations in most provinces that, in the event of illness, migrants without documents might have to walk up to a hundred kilometres for treatment.
Sometimes, health centres are connected to hospitals. Above all, regional differences exist, e.g. in the province of Donosti (San Sebastian) an internal and inofficial agreement exists between doctors and Basque health authorities to include Sin Papeles in outpatient treatment. Usually they receive a special pass assigning them to a GP. In the case of specialist treatment, the usual problems exist. The apparent paradox is that it would certainly cost the Spanish authorities less to integrate migrants into the existing health system than to finance new institutions. Still, this would finally mean acknowledging the rights of these people, which is nor in the interests of the government. Their interest is to put obstacles in the way, instead of pulling down barriers.
For the children of illegal migrants the situation is quite different: the Spanish government provides welfare until they are of age. In Ceuta, even the police have recently drawn attention to the unlawful practice of deporting minor, unaccompanied refugees to Morocco without consideration for their special status. Human rights organisations such as Algeciras Acoge have also called for better conditions and more rights, especially for under-age migrants, and free admission to the Spanish health and education system. In the meantime, some projects and initiatives exist that are financed by the government, especially to support young migrants (e.g. in sheltered accommodation); however, only a fraction benefit from them. A lot of young people live more or less on the streets and try - often as petty criminals - to make their way in life, with the tantalizing promise of Spanish consumer society before their eyes. [back to top]

The reaction in society to “illegal" immigration
The growing number of foreigners arriving in Spain is increasingly generating mistrust and fear, and in some cases even violent reactions. Algerian immigrants, in particular, are falling victim to racist attacks and discrimination over and over again. Nevertheless, in the south of Spain, relationships with “strangers" have traditionally been characterized by hospitality, especially in the region around Algeciras. There has always existed a tradition of solidarity with legal and “illegal" immigrants. However, even in our region, the positive attitude towards immigrants is changing to one of rejection. Most people think if people are “illegal" they must have come into conflict with the law, even more so as a connection between immigration (especially from Morocco) and the drugs trade has been established in the coastal regions.
The Straits of Gibraltar have been a trade route for hashish to Europe for centuries. Today, an increasing number of people without documents, whose only “crime" consists in looking for a better and more dignified life, are taking this sea route. In those cases where the “clandestine" stay of immigrants is sponsored and supported by Spaniards, they are being threatened by fixed penalties (fines of up to 2,000,000 pesetas appr. 35,000 DM - and prison sentences of up to three years). Especially those who show solidarity with the Sin Papeles for purely humanitarian reasons are increasingly criminalized by the authorities.
Certainly, there are many commercial “human traffickers" and employers who cynically exploit the despair and the misery of the immigrants - and are (in opinion of our organisation) rightfully prosecuted and punished by the Spanish authorities. However, if those who chance to meet people without documents on the street and take them by car to the nearest bus stop - out of pure helpfulness and without taking any payment, are portrayed as “human traffickers" in public, this is an open attack on the last remnants of humanity and compassion towards the weak in Spanish society.
During the last few years, the authorities have undertaken to arrest those Spaniards accused of actively supporting “illegal entry' and “illegal stay” and punish them with fines or prison. Before the introduction of new legislation on “the fight against illegal immigration" in the Spanish penal code, there were a great number of people in our region who offered help to new arrivals and supplied them with essentials - water, food, clothing, in6rmation, a lift to the next large city or the nearest bus stop. Nowadays, certain streets and highways in the south of Spain are considered unsafe for immigrants, because public transportation, especially buses, is constantly being checked by police, and tourists repeatedly have to show identification. Although there are still a few people who support the Sin Papeles as a matter of course, on the whole, fear of prosecution is growing. Nobody appreciates being arrested, treated like a criminal or risking trouble with the police. Therefore, spontaneous help for people without documents has become rather the exception today.
Prosecution by the authorities for showing solidarity with Sin Papeles leads to fear, and this growing fear is supposed to teach us that we must shield ourselves against foreigners. In the spring of 1998, our support network “Acoge" launched a campaign in Algeciras calling for “solidarity with the criminalized supporters of immigrants". Thousands of people signed the appeal, 'confessing' that they were supporters of Sin Papeles. Similar petitions were organized all over Andalusia, as well as in Barcelona and Madrid. In Barcelona, the assembly “Papers per a Thotom" handed 5,000 signatures to the mayor of Greuges; in Cadiz, the Association for Human Rights collected 4,000, and in Madrid the alliance “Documents for Everybody" collected 1,500 'confessions'. Despite increasing attempts at criminalization, up until today a strong interest in the development of immigration and a deeply rooted consciousness of the unjust fate of the Sin Papeles exist among local people.
This is related to the many tragic deaths in the Straits of Gibraltar. These deaths are happening at our own front door. Citizens of the coastal town of Tarifa keep carrying flowers to the mass graves of the drowned, who have been buried hurriedly outside the town without ever being identified. Besides our organization, there are others helping people without documents in securing shelter with local farmers, or providing for a safe journey in order to give them a chance to begin a new life in ,,wealthy and enlightened" Europe. The Catholic Church, with its ongoing support of people without documents, plays an important role in Spain.
The Church has proved to be an influential advocate in numerous negotiations with the Ministry of Home Affairs, and besides the pulpit, it commands privileged access to the mass media. The Church has certainly succeeded in putting pressure on the state, but it avoids any kind of direct confrontation with the authorities. As for direct assistance, Caritas possesses considerable resources in funding and personnel, and can therefore offer various kinds of assistance: legal aid, soup kitchens, apartments (sometimes even rent payments), rent security, language classes, job placement and payment of transportation costs. Asylum and sanctuary seekers can also apply for financial support from the Red Cross (up to 480 DM).
Independent initiatives and solidarity groups are involved in supporting refugees and immigrants, and in political circles they are the strongest critics, speaking up against the state's immigration policies and current legislation on aliens. The demand “Docurnents for all" is relatively new in Spain. Up to now, most initiatives in this direction have been launched by refugee and immigrant groups in possession of legal status. However, in something like an echo to the “sans papiers" in France, a movement came into being in Spain that called itself “papeles para todos", demanding legalization of all foreigners on Spanish territory who want to stay One of the first groups formulating this demand was the “Assemblea papers per tothom" in Barcelona, where immigrants without documents are organized. The movement gained impetus when in October 1997 the “Plataforma papeles para todos y todas" was constituted in Madrid, with an affiliation of 49 groups and organizations. In the Basque country this initiative is supported by SOS-Arrazakeria; in Andalusia - a region where the number of Sin Papeles is considerable - by local groups of “Andalusia Acoge" (“Andalusia welcomes") and the “Asociaciones por derechos humanos" (Association for Human Rights).
As a consequence, on the basis of their activities more platforms and solidarity networks have developed in many cities in Andalusia. Except for these initiatives there is no movement here that is led by people without documents. Temporary coalitions exist, even if these rarely function beyond the scope of specific activities. One action took place in June 1998; after 52 Sin Papeles had occupied the cathedral in Malaga, they demanded the immediate legalization of 215 immigrants from Central Africa who had been transferred from Ceuta and Melilla and left on the street without documents. The occupation, which was supported by the “Plataforma de solidaridad con los inmigranres", ended successfully This way, the demand “Documents for all", as well as the demand for civil rights for all Sin Papeles in Spain, gained a much wider public and more legitimization, as previously they had been regarded as rather naive notions.
Furthermore, interest in cooperation on a European level was created, even if direct networking has not yet progressed beyond the early stages. We in Algeciras and the southern provinces of Spain are often the first contact with Spanish society for the new immigrants. Besides the embassy in Madrid, Morocco has only one consulate in Algeciras, with jurisdiction over the whole southern part of the country All Moroccan immigrants wanting prolongation for their passports have to travel to Algeciras. It is quite interesting to observe the enormous efforts made to enable those who have settled here legally and permanently to have a nice comfortable trip home - mostly during the summertime, when hundreds of thousands take their cars to spend their vacations in North Africa. Many immigrants from the Maghreb spend millions of pesetas on their trip “home". In the port of Algeciras they are welcomed by a great number of institutions and services (e.g. Arabic-speaking staff and medical personnel) all designed to make the wait before embarcation as agreeable as possible for them and their families - which is indeed a positive development. Still, how would these people be treated if they were “new immigrants", finally trying their luck in the north - likemany of their compatriots before them?
In May 1999, the Spanish Ministry of Home Affairs announced plans for expenditure of an additional 25,000,000,000 pesetas (ca. 315 million DM) for the fortification of the borders in the south of the country. At the core of the future measures are an increase in personnel and reinforcement of the border police, with more speedboats, new helicopters and sophisticated technical equipment. This includes highly sensitive radar able to differentiate between a boat and the crest of a wave in the far distance; cameras reacting to body heat which are automatically directed towards groups of people, infra-red night vision devices, and many others.
The operation of this equipment will be coordinated in Algeciras in order to make immigration controls at the southernmost end of the Spanish coast more effective. The Straits of Gibraltar are to be off limits for “pateras" and their unwanted cargo. The following quotation from the article “Subsaharianos en Espana", by Juan A. Cebrian and Simon Bihina, published in the Spanish magazine “Migraciones" (3/1998), perfectly illustrates our attitude towards immigration: “Almost all nations known to us today are the results of long historical processes, of an ongoing struggle between preservation of native culture and acceptance of cultural values that are foreign to us. The principle of a mix of ethnic groups and cultures has proved to be the dominant one. The history of many European nations shows us that the peaceful coexistence of diverse cultures for longer periods of time has been a reality. Without underestimating the difficulties of such peaceful togetherness, the task today should be to achieve common universal values in order to facilitate intercultural communication. This is only possible if we accept what appears to be fundamentally different and foreign, and try to bring about peaceful communication." [back to top]

This article is a summary of two contributions by Peio Aierbe from Donostia (San Sebastian), an activist from Mugak and the organisation “Algeciras Acoge" (algeciras wekomes).

The Spanish coast between Almeria and Malaga is covered by plastic tarpaulins; one of the most fertile regions in Spain is just a gigantic greenhouse. The strawberries that can already be bought in February in Germany grow here - because they were cheaply cultivated, sprayed and picked by “illegal" migrants. “It’s incredibly monotonous work, without a break. All day long you have to creep along on the ground, bent almost double under the plastic tarpaulins. It’s terribly hot in the greenhouses, up to 45C, and you sweat like hell. Sometimes your body feels paralyzed because of the unbearable heat." This work is sheer slavery.

There is no breeze and you can hardly breathe in the heat. Furthermore, the air is thick with the stench of pesticides and fertilizers. Most people only endure it for one or two years. Many begin to suffer from lung diseases and if they can’t find anything else, at some stage they end up in hospital. Agriculture is a seasonal business; depending on the season there is lots of work or none at all. In this situation, illegal migrants without rights of any kind are very handy Every morning they have to look for new jobs, daily wages are about 50 to 60 DM. “Many of the refugees live in quite inhuman conditions. They live in shanty towns of scrap and plastic; inside the heat is infernal.

Mostly there is no water or light, often there were ten or fifteen of us sleeping in decaying ruins that did not even have a roof" Strawberries in February, or dirt cheap, out-of-season shrubbery-tomatoes, perfect lettuces, cucumber at give-away prices; in short: the well-laid tables of homes all over Europe would be impossible without the work of some 14, 000 migrants in the greenhouses of Almeria. Yet workers are not as well-organized as their employers. Either they do not know their rights or they have not got the self-confidence to assert them, for example by means of strikes. The model of Almeria works because the supply of day labourers is endless.

All those that come have to invest a lot to get there, and they have only one goal: to send money back home by any means. “When they come here, they dream of an economic miracle that doesn't exist. Yet by working here they have the chance to send from 250 to almost 400 DM a month back home. Extended families, including aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins live on this money." Burkina Faso, Mauretania, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Nigeria, Liberia: half Africa meets in Almeria, but only internally are the groups well organized.

The people of Senegal have split up the street-trading among themselves, foremen or -women in the greenhouses are usually Moroccans, English-speaking Sierra Leonians concentrate on the tourists that bask in the sun dose to this 'shadow economy'. Migrant groups do not only have little contact with each other, however; they also live on the periphery of Spanish society. About 90% of illegal immigrants want to head further north: to France, Italy, Scandinavia and last, but not least, to Germany. The air is always full of rumours; you constantly hear new bits of gossip, pick up promising tips on the latest developments... [back to top]

Cited from a broadcast on the subject of illicit work