Immigration Will Transform Europe—Spanish Minister

Jason Webb, Reuters, June 7, 2007

Immigration will transform Europe in the next 20 years and policies to help the integration of new arrivals can avoid social tensions, Spain’s top immigration official said.

A European Commission proposal for stricter controls on illegal workers and efforts to ensure migrants’ children are well educated should help the continent digest the large influx of workers, Immigration Secretary Consuelo Rumi said.

“Not only Spain, but most of the European Union is going to be a very different society,” Rumi said in response to a question about the outlook for the next two decades.

“We will have to learn how to live with different races, different sorts of people and ensure harmony between the different cultures which will make up our societies.”

Spain, which had very few immigrants until the early 1990s, is now home to about four million foreigners, 10 percent of its population. Some of these are retirees from places like Germany and Britain, but most have come from Morocco, Latin America and Eastern Europe to seek work in a booming economy.

“A city like Madrid could not function without immigration,” Rumi said in an interview on Wednesday.

Spain’s Socialist government annoyed its European partners by granting an amnesty to about 600,000 paperless migrants in 2005 but has since tried to crack down on illegal immigration.

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Family reunions and arrivals from within Europe and elsewhere means the total number of immigrants per year is running at about three times that number, analysts say.

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Other European countries with longer histories of immigration, particularly France, have experienced problems when alienated communities have been concentrated in poor suburbs.

To avoid this situation, Spain has a “strategic citizenship and integration plan” to ensure workers and their children have access to education and facilities.

“We’re working to avoid situations like those in France, which are often linked to lack of equal opportunity,” Rumi said.

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