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Immigrants Face Uphill Battle in Spain

Nearly a dozen sub-Saharan Africans have died recently trying to reach Spain's North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. Their deaths, along with new repatriation efforts by the Moroccan government, have sparked controversy and concern. But those who have actually reached Europe's borders haven't necessarily found the promised land.

Samuel Edusa Eyison arrived in Barcelona in 1984 with an accounting degree and high hopes for a prosperous new life in Spain. Today, the dreams of this native Ghanaian have only been partly realized. He gets his Spanish citizenship papers next year. But despite his accounting background, Mr. Eyison earns a living as a private chauffeur.

Nor is he the only African having to start from scratch in this prosperous province of Catalonia, home to roughly 700,000 foreigners - Spain's largest immigrant population.

"Actually, it's very hard. A lot of immigrants are qualified to do certain jobs. We have doctors. We have nurses, we have a whole lot of professional immigrants. The point is when they come here they don't have the opportunity to exercise what they've learnt in Africa. So they have to do every kind of job," he said.

Although the plight of thousands of Africans trying to reach Spain has been in the news in recent weeks, the majority of foreigners here are not from sub-Saharan Africa. They come from Latin America, Eastern Europe and Morocco. And many come by ordinary means not via Spain's North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.

Regardless of their origins, however, immigrants have largely been good news for this Mediterranean country, analysts like Rickard Sandell say. Mr. Sandell works at the El Cano Royal Institute, a Madrid-based policy group.

"Spain has had a very large economic boom for many years, and the economic growth has benefited from the large immigration intake they've had. But that might change, if economic conditions become worse," he said.

Earlier this year, the leftist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero offered hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants the opportunity to legalize their status. So far, almost half a million have obtained legal working papers.

But in Barcelona, immigration specialist Ghassam Saliba Zerghondi says becoming legal is only the first step.

Mr. Zerghondi heads immigrant affairs at the CCOO, a Catalonia trade union based in Barcelona. He says legal working papers granted to immigrants in Spain often limit their opportunities to blue-collar jobs. In recent years, too, Mr. Zerghondi and other experts say, it has become increasingly harder for foreigners to apply for political asylum in Spain and in other European countries.

Joaquim Chanque May does not remember facing such daunting hurdles when he arrived to Barcelona, as a student from Equatorial Guinea 30 years ago.

After completing his university studies, Mr. Chanque May opted to stay on, because he opposed his country's government.

Now 57 years old, Mr. Chanque May owns a small business and has Spanish citizenship. But he says he and his family are not completely welcome in their adopted country.

Mr. Chanque May says his children face discrimination at school. The problem isn't fellow students, he says, but their parents, who tell their children not to play with blacks.

Mr. Chanque May has been following the plight of his fellow Africans who have been trying to reach Spain via Morocco. Despite the many shortcomings of life in Spain, he considers himself lucky to be here and not braving the Spanish frontiers of Ceuta and Melilla.

Still, Mr. Chanque May does not intend to remain in Spain all his life. He says he considers himself first and foremost an African and a Guinean. And someday, he says, he hopes to return to live in his native land.