Thursday, September 28, 2006

Crisis, What Crisis?

Spain is not going to sink just because 25000 immigrants arrive in the Canary Islands. This was the dismissive message of a German politician last week at a European Union meeting in Finland where the Spanish government was requesting assistance to deal with the arrival of African immigrants in the Canaries. Behind the comment was an attitude that Spanish governments will probably have to get used to; Spain is no longer in a position to demand help from the EU, it is now one of the wealthier nations in the union following the expansion to 25 members.

The remark was intended as a means of suggesting that there was no real reason for Spain to get help, but it accidentally put the problem into perspective too. The coverage in Spain of these boats arriving in Tenerife is leading people to talk as if the country is facing some kind of major crisis as a result. It is a curious side-effect of the government’s policy of closing down other migration routes that have been used to cross over to the mainland, because it has concentrated the arrivals in a single area whereas previously there were many different arrival points. So even though there has been no significant increase in African immigration, the impression given is that is has risen very sharply. Indeed, compared to the overall increase in immigration to Spain in the last 10 years, the arrival of 25000 more in the Canary Islands is literally a drop in the ocean when compared to the number of people who will arrive by more conventional means. If there is any real crisis here, it is in the incapacity of the Canarian authorities to cope with so many arrivals in the same place, and in the number of immigrants who do not survive the difficult, dangerous journey.

The plea to the European Union was part of an attempt by the government to look busy on this issue, and intense pressure has been placed on Senegal and other West African nations to accept repatriation of some of these migrants. The government is aware that the issue of illegal immigration can damage them, especially with the Partido Popular intent on pretending that it is somehow just a phenomenon of the last two years. In the process the sense of crisis is accentuated rather than reduced, as nobody seems willing to emphasise the message that the German representative put across so simply a few days ago.

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