(Source: By Sinikka Tarvainen, dpa, Hamburg, Germany (MCT) Madrid (dpa) – At Madrid airport, a man is crying inconsolably. “I never thought life could be so cruel,” he says. “Spain’s crisis is breaking my heart.”
Andres Sammuesa has come to the airport to take leave of his daughter and two small nieces, who are returning to their native Ecuador.
“I came here at age 17, 11 years ago,” says the daughter, Neli. “For a long time, we did well.” Neli worked as a maid and her husband at construction sites. But then came the economic crisis.
“(My husband) has been unemployed for four years, and I, for two. The house we had bought was taken from us by the bank, because we could no longer pay (the mortgage). We are going back with less than we came with. We have failed.”
The scene, which was witnessed by the daily El Pais, is far from rare at the airport.
Tens of thousands of immigrants, who contributed to the Spanish economy for years and struggled to build themselves a better life, are having to let go of their dream.
“Social dramas are being played out,” says Vladimir Paspuel, president of the Ecuadorian immigrants’ association Ruminahui. Spain’s 600,000 Ecuadorians form the third-largest immigrant community in the country, after Romanians and Moroccans.
He said in an interview with dpa that about 7,000 Ecuadorians who purchased homes on credit have lost them or are close to losing them.
From the late 1990s onwards, Spain’s economic boom turned it into a magnet for immigrants, whose number increased fivefold over a decade. The country of 46 million residents now has about 5 million foreign residents, 2.6 million of whom come from outside the European Union.
Migrants from Latin America or Morocco have been hit hard by the economic crisis, which has left nearly 25 per cent of the workforce without jobs. Among immigrants, the unemployment rate is nearly 37 per cent.
More than half of Madrid’s homeless people are now immigrants, according to a figure quoted by the daily El Mundo.
About 230,000 immigrants – as well as more than 40,000 Spaniards – left Spain in the first half of this year, according to the National Statistics Institute. Spain’s population is falling for the first time in decades.
Most of those who leave are from Latin America, where many economies are growing faster than European countries. Groups buying one-way tickets include Colombians, Argentinians, Bolivians, and Peruvians, as well as Moroccan and Polish immigrants.
Many of the Latin Americans leave in the framework of “voluntary return” programmes, which offer them flight tickets and financial incentives.
About 17,000 Ecuadorians have left under such programmes offered by the Spanish and Ecuadorian governments, Paspuel estimates.
However, the financial incentives are usually too modest for the returnees to set up a business, he said. “Some of them do well, but many find it difficult to find work back in Ecuador.”
Ecuadorian immigrants have spent an average of eight to 10 years in Spain, and many of the returnees feel they are being “brutally uprooted,” Paspuel says.
“They may have lost their circle of friends in Ecuador and no longer think and live like the locals. The standard of living is lower than in Spain. Some of their children refuse to leave Spain and stay behind.”
For some returnees, the adjustment difficulties are so big that they come back to Spain. Others go to look for work in Belgium, Italy or Britain, where they face a language barrier.
Unlike in some other European countries, the crisis has fuelled little open anti-immigrant sentiment in Spain, which has no far-right party. Analysts attribute the political moderation partly to the common language and cultural heritage that Latin Americans share with Spaniards.
Paspuel, however, perceives racism as having increased with the economic crisis. “Politicians do not express it, but you notice it in conversations with Spaniards,” he says.
The crisis is also pushing Spaniards to emigrate.
Many of the Spanish emigrants are young professionals with language skills, who do well in other European countries, the United States or Latin America. But the media also report on Spaniards who ended up sleeping on the streets in countries such as Norway.
The departure of both immigrants and Spaniards depletes the country of its work and brain power.
“When European economies recover from the crisis, they are going to miss the immigrants who had already become integrated here, but who were forced to leave,” Paspuel says.
©2012 Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany)
Visit Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany) at www.dpa.de/English.82.0.html
Distributed by MCT Information Services