Immigration is perceived as the most pressing political problem in Spain, as related problems begin to dent the popularity of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s Socialist government, according to an opinion poll released yesterday.
A majority of Spaniards disapproved of the government’s handling of the latest immigration crisis, triggered by hundreds of hungry, desperate west Africans who this month stormed their way into Ceuta and Melilla, Spain’s north African enclaves. The migrants are being repatriated to Morocco but anxiety about uncontrolled immigration is growing.
The poll, for Cadena Ser, the leading private sector radio network, found that 54 per cent of Spaniards named immigration as the country’s biggest political problem, outflanking hardy perennials such as unemployment and terrorism. Six months ago, the figure was 31 per cent.
An overwhelming majority of respondents said the Madrid government ought to be putting more pressure on Morocco to crack down on illegal migrants. Large numbers also thought the European Union and the United Nations should get involved to solve the problem.
Spaniards said they were sceptical about the outcome of an international conference, called by Spain and Morocco, to address the issue.
Spanish authorities have also come under fire from human rights and aid groups for allowing Moroccan authorities to round up thousands of west African migrants and bus them, handcuffed, to the deserted border with Algeria and Mauritania.
Mr Zapatero’s approval ratings have fallen seven points in six months to 51 per cent, largely in response to the government’s weak handling of the immigration crisis. This year, his government granted a widespread amnesty to some 600,000 undocumented migrants working illegally in Spain.
The immigration amnesty was hailed as an important first step in the integration of migrant workers, 3m of whom have arrived in Spain in the past five years. But Mr Zapatero’s lenient immigration policy has been criticised at home and within the EU, notably in the Netherlands and Germany, for triggering a “call effect”, that is, encouraging more illegal migrants to enter Spain.
Immigrants now account for 8.4 per cent of Spain’s 44m population, a higher percentage than in France.
At a press conference this month, Mr Zapatero said Europe would continue to have a security problem on its borders until it “changed its attitude towards Africa”.
Spain yesterday said it would propose a joint plan on immigration with France at a European Union summit this month.