Spanish party leader criticises immigrants

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Conservative opposition leader is denounced for his controversial comments on unemployed foreigners.

18 September 2008

MADRID -- Since the economic crisis began in late 2007, hundreds of thousands of people who came to Spain to work found themselves unemployed, increasing the ranks of job seekers, and, in working class areas in particular, fueling social tensions. The trend has triggered some controversial stances from national politicians, most recently from conservative opposition leader Mariano Rajoy.

In an effort to boost support among working class Spaniards, Rajoy suggested on Monday that unemployment pay should go to Spanish workers alone.

"We have to reform immigration policy", he said at a meeting of his Popular Party's national board on Monday. "We are starting to see some things that aren't good in some areas of Spain. There are 180,000 foreigners receiving unemployment pay and we are returning to days long gone with 20,000 young Andalusians looking for work in the French grape harvest".

The statement sparked an immediate backlash from immigrant groups, other political parties and trade unions.

Rajoy attempted to cool the controversy over his comments on Tuesday, saying his words had been misinterpreted. That did not stop leftist politicians, including members of the governing Socialist Party, from calling the PP leader "xenophobic".

"Questioning whether immigrants who work and pay into the system should be allowed to claim unemployment pay is to consider them simply as slaves", said José Blanco, the deputy secretary general of the Socialist Party.

Deputy Prime Minister María Teresa Fernández de la Vega said Rajoy's comments proved that the conservatives have not changed with the times, as Rajoy has claimed. "It is almost impossible to believe that the PP has abandoned extreme radicalism", De la Vega said.
However, Rajoy's comments highlight one truth. Immigrants without work are often more reliant on the state to provide for them than Spaniards, who can more often turn to their families for financial support.

"The economic and employment situation is very serious. It affects Spaniards and it especially affects people who came here to work and who do not have their families to rely on... they are going to fare much worse", PP Secretary General María Dolores de Cospedal said.

[El Pais / Araceli Arias / Expatica]

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