Immigration: Has the backlash started?

14th January 2004, Comments 0 comments

In the wake of the latest controversy over racist chants at the Madrid football derby, commentators claim Spanish society is attempting to come to terms with an immigrant population which has quadrupled in the past five years. Graham Keeley reports.

The number of legal foreign residents has soared to 1,647,011

 This time the spectre of racism came back to haunt Spanish football at one of the highest-profile games of the year, the Madrid derby between Real and Atletico.

Atletico fans picked out Real Madrid and Brazil full back Roberto Carlos as the target for the monkey chants.

Atletico were given a token fine of EUR 600 by the Spanish Football Federation.  

The RFEF said the club had done all it could to stop the chanting. But despite referee Alfonso Perez Burrull's request for a message across the public-address system, the chanting got louder.

It seems these ugly chants are not confined to Atletico. Barcelona, Albecete and Real Madrid have been fined for similar offences by their fans in recent months.

Much was made of the controversy over the Spain vs England 'friendly' football match last year in which black English players were greeted with 'monkey chants' every time they touched the ball.

SOS Racismo, a Spanish campaign group, warned the chants at the game were a symbol of the reaction of Spanish society to the fact it has now the fastest rising level of immigration in Europe.

Campaigners fear more instances like those will follow as Spain struggles to come to terms with its rising immigrant population.

"A few years ago it was bad to be a racist ... now there is more impunity," complained Begona Sáñchez, a spokeswoman for SOS Racismo.

"This is not an isolated incident. It is a signal that, although the vast majority of Spaniards are not racists, this is something that is consolidating here."

Campaigners welcomed the condemnation that eventually came from the Spanish authorities.

But they warned it was time that Spaniards, who were mostly upset that anybody should think they might be racists, took the threat seriously.

"We have a problem with racism," said Esteban Ibarra of the Movement Against Intolerance. "Either this is stemmed now, or something grave will happen."

So who are the black or Asian immigrants who have chosen to make Spain their home? And what do they make of this debate?  

Kashif and Farisa Habib have been living in Barcelona for eight years.

For them it is very much home and where they want to bring up their four-year-old daughter and baby son.

Kashif, 33, has a well-paid job with a multi-national company, and 27-year-old Farisa has just left work to spend more time with their children.

Both are Muslims whose families were from Pakistan but lived in Rochdale, near Manchester in the UK. 

The Habibs are typical of the kind of young professional family moving to Spain in increasing numbers.

The numbers

*quote1*But although more and more people are arriving in Spain from other parts of Europe, the real picture of immigration is more complex.

Many more foreigners earning a living here are from Latin America and Africa.

The Spanish Foreign Ministry revealed the full scale of the numbers who are now settling in this country.

The number of legal foreign residents soared to 3.3 million this year- four times the 1998 figure.

Immigrants now represent 7.5 percent of the Spanish population of just over 42 million.

In 2003, there were 323,010 new arrivals alone – a 24 percent rise on the year before.

More than a third are people from the European Union. The British are by far the biggest contingent, with 105,479 permanent residents (6.4 percent of all foreigners).

Next come the Germans with 67,963 (4.1 percent) settled in Spain. Other large communities are the Italians who make up 59,745 (3.6 percent), the French with 49,196 (3 percent) and the Portuguese, of whom there are 45,614 (2.8 percent).

Foreign workers make up seven percent of the working population

But the

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