Could expats be a political force?

26th July 2004, Comments 0 comments

Angered by rising crime and other issues but without voice of their own to protest, expats are poised to set up their own political party in southern Spain. Ian Frewer reports.

"What do we want?"

The Moncloa, the Spanish seat of government, where an expat party wants a say

"More police!"
"When do we want them?"
"NOW!"

It was a curious sight, some 500 people, many middle-aged, marching along a Spanish road, in a Spanish town, watched with curiosity and not a little concern by Spanish police.

The banners were in English, the chants were in English, and most – but by no means all – of the marchers were English.

Some were old enough to have chanted similar slogans against the Poll Tax, or even the Vietnam war, but now they were marching again.

This time the march was in Orihuela Costa, a long stretch of new developments between the Costa Blanca and the Costa Callida.

A lot of Brits, a lot of Irish, several Germans, and, marching along with them, several Spanish residents.

They were marching because in April, a 14-year-old girl of Norwegian descent had been raped and murdered; and because her attacker, a 14-year-old boy, stood to serve just four years imprisonment, under Spanish law. It was the last straw.

But a feeling of unease had been building-up among expats about the apparent rising crime rates.

*quote1*Steve Miller, 42, lives in Huddersfield, in Britain. He was holidaying in nearby Torrevieja when he was mugged early one evening, losing all his money, papers, the lot. He went straight to the Guardia Civil offices close by, to report the theft.

“They said I needed an interpreter. I told them, 'I've lost all my cash, my passport, I'm bleeding from a cut to my forehead, and no, I don't speak Spanish. I'm just here on holiday, for God's sake!'

"No, they told me to go away and get an interpreter. How they hell do I do that? How do I pay for one? They just shrugged, and told me to clear off. I tell you, it's the last time I come to ruddy Spain!”

Law and order is the biggest issue, closely followed by lack of interpreters, seemingly absurd Spanish bureaucracy, police apathy and official intransigence.

Michael Carnegie, 56, from Dublin, was one of the organisers of the march.

“I've had enough of people telling me it's their country!” he told us.

“It's not enough, any more. They sell us houses, they charge us rates and taxes, they take our money, and then they treat us with contempt!

"They might have got away with it, in the old days, but there're too many of us to ignore, now! If they don't listen to us, why should we pay our taxes?”

Marilyn Wilkinson, 48, from Gillingham, Kent, Britain, has been living in Spain for 15  years, speaks the language fluently, and runs several businesses.

“We've been treated as second-class immigrants for years,” she complained, “and now it's time to fight back. What we're looking for is political clout, to form our own Expatriate's Party, and fight at the next local elections.

"Demonstrations and empty promises aren't enough, we have to have people at the heart of local government to make our voices heard.”

*quote2*It could work, too. Marilyn is openly supported by several local British business people, all Spanish speaking, who see their livelihoods threatened if incoming Brits start to move away.

Jamie Collis, 53, who is originally from Croydon, London, who runs a ship's chandlery, agrees; “They ignore our complaints, ignore the fact that damn near half the citizens here are British, refuse to provide interpreters, and yet they'll take our money, they don't have any problems with that!”

Feelings are running high, certainly in this part of the Costa Blanca, where crime is a real problem, and most incomers are struggling to learn even basic Spanish.

The idea of forming and funding a political party to represent the interests of the expats is being openly discussed, and the feeling of resentment that little is being done to accommodate their special needs is growing. But will political ‘representation' achieve a lot?

Graham Knight, 53, former K

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