By Samir Bennis*
By Samir Bennis*
Morocco World News
New York, August 21, 2011
The Federation of Catalan Cultural Entities of Moroccan Origin (FECCOM) expressed Saturday its “indignation” in response to remarks made by a Catalan official who accused Moroccan immigrants of engaging in welfare fraud.
Catalan Councilor for Employment, Francesc Xavier Mena, had said Thursday that “many” of the 9000 Moroccans living on unemployment allowance in Catalonia were fraudsters.
“Moroccans continue to receive social benefits, even after leaving Catalonia and returning home”, Xavier Mena said.
“We express our indignation and sadness following the comments made by the Catalan councilor that show a tremendous ignorance of the situation of Moroccan nationals residing in Catalonia”. The FECCOM statement, carried by the Maghreb Arab Press news agency, continued that the Catalan official’s comments were based on “false” data.
“We do not deny that there may be cases of people who left Catalonia and still enjoy the unemployment allowance, which is obviously a fraud. But the vast majority of these 9,000 Moroccans still live in Catalonia” the statement said, adding that many Moroccans settled in this region for over 20 years, some of which hold Spanish citizenship and still have not yet collected the unemployment allowance for the month of August.
“Instead of apologizing and finding a quick solution to this problem, Mr. Mena seeks rather to give a negative image of the Moroccan community, arouse suspicion against it by means of criminalizing it and accusing it of fraud”, noted FECCOM, which is chaired by the former MP Catalan of Moroccan origin Mohamed Chaib.
“Moroccans are the leading foreign group affiliated to social security in Spain and Catalonia (218,481 members including 53,611 in Catalonia as of July 2011 according to figures published by the Spanish Ministry of Labour)”, recalled FECCOM, which brings together some forty-five associations throughout all the Catalan provinces.
The comments of the Catalan official aroused also the indignation of several Catalan civil society actors.
The secretary general of the trade union “Union of Workers” (UGT) of Catalonia, Josep Maria Alvarez, accused the Catalan government of “fueling” the rhetoric of the far-right.
Mena’s remarks are likely to “fuel” and “give wings” to the anti-immigrant rhetoric being spread by “Plataforma per Catalunya,” said Alvarez in “Catalunya Radio”, while challenging the data presented by the official Catalan on the number of immigrants who fraudulently receive the unemployment allowance.
For its part, the spokesperson for Initiative for Catalonia, the Green party present in the regional parliament, Laia Ortiz, announced that her party will ask the chamber to denounce the “racist statements” made by the Catalan councilor.
This is a “grave irresponsibility” which comes about in “a context of social conflict and the rise of racist attitudes,” said Laia Ortiz.
Social workers, for their part, demonstrated outside the headquarters of the Autonomous Government of Catalonia to denounce the arguments of Mena about the need for monitoring fraud.
In particular, they stressed that each case is checked twice a year and that in suspicious cases, agents demand immigrant’s passports to verify their trips abroad. To prevent social security fraud, the government of Catalonia changed the payment method of unemployment allowance without advance notice. The beneficiaries are now paid by nominal check sent by registered mail, instead of wire to their bank accounts, as was the case previously.
Unemployment allowance recipients must remain in Catalonia and not leave Spain during the entire period they receive social assistance (420 euros per month). According to the spokesman for the Catalan Government, Francesc Homs, this measure was adopted to “prevent fraud”.
According to figures released by the Catalan government, 34,000 people including 9,000 Moroccans benefit from unemployment allowance in the autonomous region of northeastern Spain
Immigration back on the agenda as the electoral campaign starts heating up
As the electoral campaign for the general elections starts heating up in the coming months, it will not be surprising to see some political leaders, especially from the right, resort to these kind of demonizing statements in order to appeal to voters. In a period when Spain is going through its worst economic and financial crisis in recent decades with a soaring unemployment rate reaching 21% of the population, the electorate will be receptive to any kind of arguments that puts the blame of the worsening situation on immigrants, in particular those whose presence in Spain are not desirable, such as Moroccans.
Some unscrupulous political leaders are aware of this fact and will exploit it to their advantage in order to achieve their narrow political ambitions. Back in the 2000 political campaign, this was a favorite tactic that was used by the Popular Party, led by Former President of the government Jose Maria Aznar, in order to convince Spanish people to renew his mandate as head of government.
At the time when the left-win Partido Socialista Obrero Espanol, then in opposition presented to the parliament a new bill on the conditions of stay and entrance to Spain for foreigners called “La Ley de Extranjeria” (The Aliens Act) that afforded immigrants living in Spain more rights, the Popular Party opposed the bill, dismissed it as the most “progressive” law in Europe and promised to tighten the grip of State control over immigrants in order to safeguard Spaniards’ interests, especially with regards to their employment prospects.
In the face of the worrying economic situation, in which Spain has been mired for the past two years, Moroccans should embrace for a political campaign that will not spare them; one which will again place the issue of immigration on top of the debate and try to turn it into the major preoccupation of the Spanish people.
Comments like the one made by the Catalan councilors regarding the extent to which Moroccans can be integrated within Spanish society are likely to abound during this period.
Most opinion polls conducted over the past decade have invariably shown that Moroccans enjoy one of the lowest favorability ratings from Spaniards among immigrant groups in Spain, being the second least favorable only after the gypsies.
With over 800,000, the Moroccan community constitutes the second largest group of immigrants established in Spain after Rumanians. Over 64,000 have obtained Spanish nationality in recent years. Most of them live in Catalonia, Madrid, Valencia, Murcia and Almeria.
*Samir Bennis is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Morocco World News.
Editing by Benjamin Villanti