Europe, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Migration & Refugees

SPAIN-COSTA RICA: “You Are Nobody in This Country”

Daniel Zueras

SAN JOSÉ, Feb 26 2008 (IPS) - As European barriers against immigration have become tighter and tighter, the number of Costa Ricans turned back at the international airport in Madrid is steadily growing, even though people from this Central American country do not need a visa to enter Spain.

Daniela Vargas flew to Spain to join her boyfriend, a Spaniard she met when he was working in Costa Rica. But her excitement at seeing him again after several months of separation was squelched when customs officials did not allow her into the country.

It all seemed so auspicious: Vargas’ flight reached Spain on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day. After crossing an entire ocean and spanning continents, the last obstacle to the happy reunion that lay ahead – customs procedures – seemed so simple.

But then things started going wrong.

“When I got there, they asked me for an invitation letter from the private individual with whom I was to stay, which was to have been sent through a police station and certified by a lawyer, or for a reservation in a hotel,” she told IPS. “But at no time had the authorities or the airline informed me of that prerequisite.”

Costa Ricans entering Spain are also required to show a round-trip ticket and a sum of money equivalent to or greater than 57 euros (around 85 dollars) a day for the person’s entire stay there. Vargas was carrying 1,500 euros for a nine-day visit.


Under the 1985 Schengen Accord, the countries making up the Schengen zone, which include most European Union nations, eliminated all border controls among themselves, while stepping up security along their borders with non-Schengen countries to curb the inflow of undocumented immigrants from outside the area.

The latest expansion of the Schengen area took place in December, when the number of participating countries was increased to 24, and external border controls were further tightened.

Compounding the recent stiffening of external border security is the effect of the campaign for Spain’s Mar. 9 elections, in which migration policies have become a hot issue.

“I don’t believe there has been a tightening of controls specifically for Costa Ricans,” said Miguel Albero, cultural attaché in the Spanish Embassy in Costa Rica. “The measures are the same throughout the Schengen space. Perhaps there is greater vigilance on certain flights,” he told IPS.

Spain deported 60 Costa Ricans in 2006 and 80 in 2007. But recent Migration Department statistics show that in the past few months, between five and seven passengers from each flight from Costa Rica are sent back from Madrid.

Albero, however, pointed out that not all of the people sent back from Madrid on the daily flights are Costa Ricans.

Costa Rica’s director of Migration, Mario Zamora, told IPS that “San José is the gateway through which Central Americans fly to Spain. But it is true that there has been an abrupt change in the past few months, with the number of people turned back soaring from what was previously a small total.”

The problem was first brought to the attention of the Migration Department in late 2007, “by an informal complaint from a Costa Rican,” said Zamora.

Both Albero and Zamora said the airlines must inform passengers of the new requirements for travelling to Spain.

“The situation would easily be solved if the airlines, when they issue tickets, told customers what they need in order to enter Spain,” said Zamora.

Albero said he “would like to think that Spain isn’t racist.” He added that “what is clear is that there is no migration pressure from Costa Rica in Spain.”

He also promised that Spain would investigate the incident involving Vargas.

Vargas is furious at the treatment she received at the hands of the customs officials in Madrid. “They sent back all of the Latinos who were on that flight. Of course there’s racism in Spain, and a great deal of it. I am not going to set a foot in that country again,” she said.

The young woman, who holds a doctoral degree in pharmaceutical sciences, was held for a day and a half in the airport’s holding centre. “We were all Latinos. Most of us were tourists.” It was “a horrible experience; I felt violated.”

She also said the customs officials treated them with contempt, making scornful jokes. “Every time they would show up with someone new, they would tell us ‘we’ll just leave you here with your family members’ or ‘see if you can find a girlfriend’.”

They also told Vargas “You are nobody here. Who do you think you are in this country?”

“The officials tried to intimidate us,” she said. “There were Costa Ricans who had been there for six days without anything, not even their toothbrushes, practically living on bread and water, because the food was disgusting.”

She also said she saw customs agents mistreating people from Africa.

Similar complaints have come from Argentine and Uruguayan citizens who have flown to Spain in the last two years.

Albero, however, said that “According to European Union evaluations of airport holding centres, the Barajas (Madrid) airport’s is among the best.”

 
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