Flood Of Desperate Refugees Tests Spaniards' Tolerance : Parallels Arab and African migrants are landing on Spain's coast in a region with a 34 percent unemployment. That's created friction and prompted a debate about how best to help them.
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Flood Of Desperate Refugees Tests Spaniards' Tolerance

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Flood Of Desperate Refugees Tests Spaniards' Tolerance

Flood Of Desperate Refugees Tests Spaniards' Tolerance

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. This week's drownings in the Mediterranean have focused attention on the thousands of Arab and African migrants who were trying to make a dangerous sea crossing to land in southern Europe. On Spain's coast, they arrive in a region with a 34 percent unemployment rate. That's created some friction and also prompted a debate about how best to help, as Lauren Frayer reports from Malaga.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEAGULLS)

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Pepe Guerrero is a doorman at a high-rise building on Malaga's coast. From here, he looks out at the turquoise Mediterranean, where hundreds of Arab and African migrants have drowned in recent weeks.

PEPE GUERRERO: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "They're people, human beings like us," he says, "searching for a better life." But Guerrero says he's divided. He says his heart goes out to those fleeing war and poverty, but he also worries whether the local economy can absorb them. The jobless rate in this region is 34 percent.

GUERRERO: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "It's so high, the unemployment rate," he says. "Spaniards themselves are migrating abroad because they can't find work." Spain has no far-right, anti-immigrant political parties like the Northern League in Italy or Golden Dawn in Greece. But experts fear this new wave of migrants from Africa may test that tolerance.

ALEJANDRO CORTINA: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "The economic crisis has worsened the view Spanish society has of these migrants," says Alejandro Cortina, the director of Malaga Welcome, an NGO that helps new arrivals. "It creates fear and distorts the reality," he says. To try to change that, Cortina's group has launched a campaign called Stop Rumors to challenge stereotypes of immigrants.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROSSTALK)

FRAYER: In a Malaga high school, volunteer Juan Alberto Ruiz Casado runs a seminar in which he starts by asking kids to draw a picture of what immigration means to them.

JUAN ALBERTO RUIZ CASADO: (Speaking Spanish).

I think the drawing is a good way to make them think about their stereotypes. Mainly, we saw boats crossing from Africa to Spain. Very few people draw, like, airplanes.

FRAYER: But more than 60 percent of immigrants come to Spain by air, not by rubber raft. Most are from Eastern Europe or Latin America. They find work and pay taxes. Data shows they use Spain's public health system less on average than native Spaniards. But a different negative stereotype persists, says 16-year-old student Kunal Keswani.

KUNAL KESWANI: I think some people are scared. Like, when you see a big Moroccan guy or a big African guy, you usually think I'm going to cross the street - maybe he jumps me, attacks me, robs me - many people here are racist, too.

FRAYER: Kunal himself was born in Spain to immigrant parents.

KESWANI: My parents are from India. They came here looking for a job. I grew up here. Actually, since I have a little bit of dark skin, but yeah, if I would have darker skin, I think it would be way worse.

FRAYER: Until now, the Spanish government's policy toward migrants has been to try to stop them from coming and then house them in prisonlike facilities, which creates a stigma, says Cortina of Malaga Welcome. His budget is $3 million over five years. In the same period, Spain spent $270 million fortifying its borders. Cortina says the money would be better spent resettling refugees and helping them assimilate.

CORTINA: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "You know how many lives I could save and improve with that money?" Cortina asks. "If only I had the budget they use to put up fences, we could really change things," he says. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Malaga, Spain.

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