By Samir Bennis
By Samir Bennis
Morocco World News
New York, April 28, 2012
According to figures released in August by the Spanish Secretariat of State for Immigration, Moroccans constitute the largest non-European community established legally in Spain, with 791,118 people.
Since the beginning of the waves of immigration of Moroccans to Spain in the early 1990’s, the latter have always been at the center of much debate among observers, politicians and talking heads. In most cases, these debates have revolved around the degree that Moroccans can integrate into Spanish society. The linguistic and religious differences have been among the arguments brandished by those who oppose the coming of Moroccans to settle in Spain.
A number of analysts have been vocal in pointing out that Moroccans, because of their religion and cultural and linguistic differences with the host country, are less likely to be integrated into Spanish society. Those who oppose immigration from Morocco have demonstrated their preference for immigrants from Latin America, and to a lesser extent from other European countries.
Among the political parties in Spain, the Partido Popular (Popular Party) has been among the actors who have advocated for the tightening of immigration, in particular, that which comes from Morocco. This debate over immigration and the position adopted by the PP, has come among the backdrop of an unprecedented increase of illegal immigrants from or transiting through Morocco, especially between 2000 and 2004.
Back then, not only did the PP announce its intentions of implementing a more restrictive immigration policy with regards to Moroccans, it also multiplied declarations to the press, in which it accused Morocco of being lax in controlling its borders and preventing would-be immigrants from reaching Spanish soil illegally.
During the presence of the PP at the helm of Spanish politics between 1996 and 2004, its hard line stance on immigration was among the major factors that resulted in the breakout of frequent tensions in relations between Rabat and Madrid. It turned these eight years into the darkest period in the relationship between the two capitals in recent decades.
The PP’s stance on immigration issues, along with its positions over the Sahara, and the question of the enclaves of Sebta and Melillia, are among the factors that push many observers, Moroccans and foreigners alike, to fear that the relationship between Rabat and Madrid may enter again a new period of troubled waters.
Reading the electoral program of the PP, one comes to the conclusion that the question of immigration is among those in which the newly elected government in Spain will show itself implacable.
As Spain is going through its worse economic situation in recent decades, we may witness a tightening of immigration law and immigrants’ access to some welfare programs. Back in 2000, when the PP was campaigning for reelection, it had already taken a hard stance regarding immigration.
A few months before the general elections of March 2000, the left-wing party (PSOE) took the lead in promulgating a new Organic Law on Immigration (La Ley de Extranjeria). This lay was promulgated in order to accommodate the new wave of immigrants who had been arriving to Spain in recents months, most of whom did not have any legal status.
Yet, judging this law, as “permissive” and too “progressive”, the PP promised to change it, in the event it remained in power. This stance taken by the PP was among the factors that contributed to its victory over the PSOE in the 2000 elections.
As a sizable proportion of immigrants who were arriving illegally to Spain were Moroccans, the latter were among the most affected by the tightening of the immigration law during the second term of the PP in power.
Moroccans: most affected by the restrictive policies of the PP
As in during that period, Moroccan immigrants will be the most affected by the return of the PP to the Moncloa.
During its electoral campaign, the PP announced its intention to amend the law regarding the granting of Spanish citizenship to immigrants living in Spain, as well as a point-based system to assess those who are eligible to settle in the country.
According to Point 3.6 of the PP’s electoral program, immigrants will undergo an exam for citizenship whose goal is “to ensure the full integration of new citizens in Spanish society.”
“We demand the knowledge of the fundamental values enshrined in the Constitution that are the foundation of our society, and the adequate knowledge of the language, history and culture as a prerequisite before being eligible to obtain Spanish nationality. A proper solemnity will be given to the act of acquiring Spanish nationality,” reads Point 3.6 of the PP’s electoral program.
On the other hand, the point-based system will prioritize the immigration of doctors, engineers, university professors and other highly qualified professionals. Those who fail to meet the requirements of the new law, including speaking Spanish fluently and having high qualifications will be obliged to return to their countries.
Thus, it is here where Moroccan immigrants will be the most affected. The latter constitute the first group of non-European immigrants living in Spain. Most of Moroccans settled in the peninsula have low academic qualifications and in most cases a poor command of the Spanish language. Most Moroccan immigrants work in construction, agriculture, domestic services and the food industry, jobs that do not require a high level of academic qualifications.
In the advent the PP keeps to its electoral program, there is no doubt that Moroccans will be the first victims of such a policy.
Any commentators acquainted with Spanish politics is aware that the PP is not a staunch supporter of the principle that immigrants, despite contributing to social security, receive unemployment benefits once they lose their jobs.
In September 2008, Mariano Rajoy, the PP’s leader and incumbent head of the Spanish government, made a statement that caused an outcry among human rights and immigrant organizations and the rest of Spain’s political parties, when he insinuated that while foreigners are receiving unemployment benefits, Spaniards are looking into the possibility of working in farms in France. “There are 180,000 foreigners collecting unemployment benefits, and we returned to the past, as there are 20,000 Andalusians who have asked to go to work in vineyards in France.”
The organization Juventudes Socialistas de España (Socialist Youth of Spain) were vocal in denouncing the statement made by Rajoy, which they deemed as are “irresponsible and xenophobic,” “pure demagoguery that can have serious consequences, as it only serves to create a feeling of rejection against thousands of people, whom, over the years, have been working with us and contributing with their taxes to improving our society and the services that we all receive as citizens.”
This statement shows clearly the dominant view among the PP’s leadership regarding the rights of immigrants living in Spain. For the PP, immigrants should be only allowed the right to work in the country, although they pay the same taxes and the same contributions to social security. As long as they are working, they are not subject to any restrictions and they receive the same legal treatment as Spanish citizens. Yet in the views of the PP, when an immigrant loses his job, he should not be granted the right to receive unemployment benefits.
And this is exactly the rationale behind the proposal of the PP to restrict the stay of immigrants in Spain and to turn the stay of immigrants in the peninsula into a circular one, in virtue of which immigrants will come to work in the country for a certain period of time every year and then return to their home countries.
As the Spanish economy is at a dire juncture, the government wants to restrict the right of unemployment benefits to Spanish citizens. In addition, the new government may also force those immigrants who have been unemployed for a long period to return to their countries. Since Moroccan immigrants are the most affected by the unemployment crisis that has been sweeping across Spain since 2008 (47% of Moroccan men and 51% of women are unemployed) they will be the first community in the eye of the storm.
On the other hand, as regards the new criteria that the PP will introduce in assessing the eligibility of immigrants to become Spanish citizens, Moroccans won’t only be among the most affected by the qualification requirements, they will also have difficulties regarding the acquisition of Spanish citizenship.
This prospect is all the more worrisome for Moroccans living in Spain, since a large proportion of them do not have a broad knowledge of Spanish history. In addition, only a small proportion of them is believed to have a deep knowledge of Spanish history, its traditions, its laws and its constitution.
While Moroccans living in Spain regard the knowledge of Spanish as a valid pre-requisite before the acquisition of citizenship, they find it inappropriate to demand that immigrants be well-acquainted with Spanish history, laws and the constitution, when even some native Spaniards do not have a profound knowledge about their country’s history and constitution.
“Most of the immigrants who live in Spain, we have come to this country to work, and generally in low-skilled jobs during the time that we live in the country, we can only learn the language. It is almost impossible to gain knowledge of history and Spanish law, because, in most cases we do not even know our own,” said Anouar Yacoubi, who has lived in Spain for almost a decade and fears not being able to obtain citizenship next year because of the new test.
The same criticism was expressed by Randa Dahraoui, a Moroccan student in the University of Granada. “To ensure that Moroccans meet the requirement of speaking the language of the country of origin before being granted citizenship can be deemed as normal. What is not acceptable is to subject immigrants to an exam whose questions are hard to answer even for Spaniards themselves,” said Randa. “Moroccan immigrants are the asset used always by the PP in its electoral campaigns and they have always been its first victims,” she added, while expressing her fear that new mandate of the PP at the head of Spanish government may bring about the same frictions that plagued relations between Morocco and Spain between 1996 and 2004.
Samir Bennis is Morocco World News’ co-founder and editor-in-chief
Editing by Benjamin Villanti
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