Spain's "Fragile Tolerance" At Risk As Socialist PM Sees "Obligation To Help" Migrants

With the migrant crisis continuing to peak for Europe's Mediterranean nations, and as it has lately become politically disastrous for others like Germany, resulting in a half-baked quick fix offered by the European Union to pay out 6,000 euros ($7,000) for each migrant a country takes in, statements coming Spain's political leaders suggest its reputed "tolerance" as a country open to migrants is increasingly fragile with resources and infrastructure stretched to the limit

What The Guardian observed earlier this summer now seems to be playing out: though there are happy scenes when migrants finally disembark on Spanish soil, such scenes inevitably "have been followed by the relentless task of coping with new arrivals."

In 2017 Spain witnessed a surge of illegal migration, mostly seaborne, but also at its two tiny North African enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta. Image via Soeren Kern

"Right now we’re seeing double the numbers arriving compared to the same period last year and last year the number was double that of the previous year," David Ortiz, the Red Cross migrant and refugee department head in the southern coastal port city of Málaga, told Politico. "Can we manage the arrival of 300 people? Yes. But if those 300 people arrive on the same day, it gets difficult,” he added. 

While others like Italy and Malta have recently turned away large boats full of hundreds, sparking a feud with EU administration and other countries over closing their ports, Spain's newly in office Socialist prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, has signaled an open-door "welcoming" policy of being ready to accept the EU's call to accept migrants; however a recent surge in seaborne entries could test Spain's "fragile tolerance" past breaking point.  

“It is our obligation to help avoid a humanitarian disaster by offering a safe harbor to these people,” Sánchez said after controversially agreeing to accept the Aquarius in June, an emergency rescue vessel carrying over 600 migrants who had been picked up off the Libyan coast, but which had been rejected by both Italy and Malta, sparking a bitter stand-off within the EU.

As other Mediterranean countries close their ports to unauthorized migrant traffic, western Mediterranean routes have increased, making Spain top the chart in terms of migrant and refugee destination numbers.

According to the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration as of mid-July about 18,600 migrants had reached Spain by sea from Morocco since the beginning of 2018, which is double the number for the same period in 2017.

Via the Gatestone Institute 

Like the EU in its recent roll out of the plan to pay governments for accepting migrants while also funding emergency "transit points" from an EU common budget, it appears Spain is getting ready to merely throw a lot of money at the problem, as Reuters reports Monday

Spain aims to invest 30 million euros ($35.1 million) in an emergency plan to manage its new status as the main destination for seaborne migration from Africa, the government said.

The funds, Reuters explains based on a statement from the Prime Minister's office, "will go toward covering the initial costs of managing arrivals on the beaches, from staff to hand out blankets and food to managing the process of identification and determining whether people qualify for asylum."

A new report in Politico on migrant patterns into Spain notes that so far there's been "relatively little political fallout," but that "the country’s reputation for moderation on the issue of immigration could soon be tested." For example, Francisco Camas García, head of the Spanish polling firm Metroscopia, said based on the pollster's observations, "Spanish society is, overall, a tolerant one, but it’s a fragile tolerance.”

The Politico report observes that Spain has managed to escape the domestic turmoil facing other European nations with the recent years' massive uptick in unauthorized or illegal immigration.

Politico explains:

Even when the economy hit a slump, between 2008 and 2012, immigration rarely featured on the political agenda. While other EU countries have seen the arrival of anti-immigrant parties, the main new political force in Spain most frequently described as “populist” is the leftist Podemos, which advocates a liberal policy on immigration.

But while [sociologist Kiko] Llaneras doesn’t forecast a sudden backlash, he does believe that there is a chance the political mood could shift.

“If you look closely at the data, there is a certain movement regarding people’s attitudes to immigration,” he said. “But it’s something which is latent and no [main] party has yet made an issue of it.”

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the only significant early push-back against Sanchez's liberalizing immigration policy is the conservative People's Party (PP), which has warned "against creating a 'pull factor' for migrants seeking a better life in Europe."

The "pull factor" recently in action this summer. 

There's also the far-right Vox Party, founded only in 2013 and with no seats and parliament, whose general secretary Javier Ortega recently lashed out, saying "We can’t send out the message: ‘All of Africa, all of Asia, all of Latin America, all of the planet where there are economic problems or security problems, or where there’s a war or a totalitarian regime — come to Spain, we’ll take you in.’”

Various reports have have of late noticed a trend of generally greater acceptance of certain types of migration, notably for example, immigrants from Latin American countries integrate with greater ease. But Moroccans and other North Africans tend not to, as Politico observes, citing Vox Party's Ortega, "With Moroccans currently representing the biggest single nationality arriving in Spain — 40,000 came last year, according to the National Statistics Institute — Ortega is predicting (some would say hoping for) integration problems."

Sanchez’s office responded to the conservative criticism in its statement: “Rather than a pull factor, we could talk about a lack of foresight in the last years of the previous government, which did nothing about increasing arrivals, and obliged this government to take urgent steps,” according to Politico.

The shift toward erecting a migrant transit response infrastructure which could fuel even more seaborne migration, combined with migration routes recently going westward away from Greece and Italy, means Spain is already finding itself as the next epicenter of Europe's migration crisis. 

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And meanwhile, near the southern Spanish town of Zahora just last Saturday...