Amid the talk of a right-wing populist backlash in Europe following the 2015 migration crisis which saw over one million migrants enter the continent, there is one country that conspicuously breaks the trend.
Spain has overtaken Italy this year to become the number one destination for migrants travelling from North Africa, yet there are few signs of any political consequences at the ballot box. The ruling Socialist party has urged the EU to increase search-and-rescue capabilities at sea and is mulling extending public healthcare to foreigners without the required documentation.
Over fifty-thousands irregular migrants have arrived in Spain in 2018. Many have crossed the 14-kilometer Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco, often in small, overcrowded boats. More than 550 migrants have drowned this year alone.
Local authorities in the southern region of Andalusia say they need more help to cope with the influx, warning that migrants are sleeping on the floors of police stations. Despite the strain on resources, migration to Spain should be welcomed, says Pablo Sanchez, professor of international law and relations at the University of Seville.
“In Europe from now to 2050, we will need more than 50 million people to be able to support our public social system. We are the ones who need them. But it has to be regulated and this has to be done by Europe,” Sanchez says.
Contrast that view with Italy, which is facing similar demographic challenges. The populist government, a coalition between the 5 Star Movement and La Liga party, has clamped down hard on the arrival of migrant boats. Could similar political forces sweep through Spain?
“I don’t believe it could be possible,” Sanchez says. “The problem has to be resolved jointly. It is a deep problem that the EU has no jurisdiction in in migration matters. The most important legal competence in these matters is at the national level.”
The European Union in July gave Spain $29 million (€25.6 million) in emergency funding to bolster reception facilities for migrants. Integrating the new arrivals is generally the responsibility of the state.
At a recent Spanish language class for migrants, part funded by the government, students described to VOA why they have come to Europe. Mamadou Kanté was keen to show off the Spanish he has learned.
“I want to work in Spain to support my mother back in my country. And I have a girlfriend, and we have a baby boy there, so now I have to work for them,” Kanté said.
Fellow student Laurent David Coman, from Guinea, says he had nothing to lose in leaving home.
“My mother died a long time ago, and I’ve never known who my father is. So all I had is my faith. I didn’t have any other support.”
Many of the students are children who travelled alone, now under the care of the Spanish state. But Teresa Escobar of the Andalusian Human Rights Association says the authorities are overwhelmed – and many other young migrants simply disappear.
“It is very worrying because if these kids are not taken in by the authorities, then they are in the hands of the mafia. And we do not know what their future would be,” Escobar told VOA in a recent interview.
The Spanish government is backing European Union calls for migrant ‘processing centers’ in Africa, alongside investment in African economies to tackle the poverty that is driving migrants to its shores.
That remains a long-term goal. For now, Spain must cope economically and politically with becoming the new favored destination for migrants seeking a better life.