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Spain Slashes Funds for Integration of Immigrants

MÁLAGA, Spain, Apr 12 2012 (IPS) - The Support Fund for the Integration of Immigrants in Spain has been drained of resources, and as a result there is no funding for social insertion, employment and education programmes for the immigrant community.

The situation has drawn harsh criticism from social organisations and opposition parties.

The Support Fund was established in 2004 to support the reception, integration and educational development of immigrants, and it finances training, employment creation and intercultural mediation programmes carried out by NGOs, autonomous regional governments and municipal councils.

But the Ministry of Labour and Social Security eliminated the fund’s entire resource allocation in the 2012 general budget, approved Mar. 30 by the right-wing government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

The national budget for 2012 was also cut by 35.9 billion dollars, an average spending reduction of 17 percent compared with 2011.

“Municipal councils and autonomous communities (regions) were using the money to hire staff like social workers and expert immigration lawyers to work with immigrants,” Mamen Castellano, the head of Andalucía Acoge (Andalusia Welcomes), an NGO that works on behalf of immigrants, told IPS.

In 2011 “the fund was already drastically downsized,” she said. “Staffing levels for immigrant assistance at the local level were cut to the bone.”

In 2010 the fund received 261 million dollars, but in 2011 the socialist government of former Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (2004-December 2011) only provided 88 million dollars, as the impact of the economic crisis grew.

“The suppression of the Support Fund is one of the hardest blows delivered to public policies for integration in recent years,” said the Spanish Federation of SOS Racismo (SOS Racism), an NGO, in a communiqué.

SOS Racismo predicts that the disappearance of the fund will paralyse “hundreds of municipal and regional integration plans,” and said its removal contravenes European Union agreements, such as the European Agenda for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals, established in July 2011.

According to SOS Racismo, “economic crises have different timescales to those needed to evaluate the extent of integration of an immigrant population that in recent years has seen its employment and family expectations frustrated.”

Immigrant aid associations and related NGOs said the cancellation of the fund would be detrimental to their own assistance activities, at least for this year.

“We are concerned about the suspension of this fund, because it will lead to the disappearance of funding earmarked for integration projects” at the municipal and regional levels, Castellano complained.

In the view of immigrants’ associations, without the actions for integration and social cohesion that were paid for by the fund, immigrants will face an increased risk of marginalisation and exclusion.

The deputy spokesman for the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC – Republican Left of Catalonia) party, Oriol Amorós, called the suspension of the fund “an attack on social harmony.”

“At times of crisis, investment in social cohesion is more essential than ever,” Amorós said.

He warned about the consequences for Catalonia, which was the main beneficiary of the fund, due to the high proportion of immigrants in that northeastern region. He noted that the fund was one of the few sources of monetary transfers from the central government.

Spain is one of the EU countries hit hardest by the global economic crisis. Over five million people are unemployed, representing 23 percent of the workforce.

Out of Spain’s population of 47 million, 4.5 million people were foreign legal residents at the end of 2011, and 48.7 percent of them were from non-EU countries, in a year when the crisis caused the migration flow to change direction after the great influx of immigrants since the late 20th century.

For the first time in more than a decade, Spain had an overall negative net migration flow, with more people leaving the country than entering it.

“We are wary of the philosophy that ‘if we are doing badly, we won’t help other people’,” said Castellano about the drastic cuts also made in the sphere of international aid, which she said may generate an upturn in immigration originating from countries receiving that assistance.

The international development aid budget was slashed by 65.4 percent compared with 2011, falling to a level of 893 million dollars, similar to the amount spent in 2005.

“It’s a cruel blow that seriously endangers what has been achieved in decades of specialised development work in impoverished countries,” said the Spanish Coordinator for Development NGOs (CONGDE) in a communiqué.

CONGDE said that “at a time like this, budgets should have firmly confronted inequality at national and international levels.”

The elimination of the immigrants’ integration fund and the slashing of international aid form part of the greatest budget cuts in Spain since the first democratic elections were held in 1977, after the 40-year dictatorship of General Francisco Franco came to an end.

The cutbacks are part of the effort to reduce the fiscal deficit from 8.5 percent to 5.3 percent, a condition set by the EU.

Additional cutbacks of 13.2 million dollars in health and education were announced Apr. 9, a measure that in the view of the opposition Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and other leftwing parties attacks the pillars of the welfare state built since democracy was established in Spain.

“We face an objective need, which is for an austere state,” said Treasury Minister Cristóbal Montoro on Tuesday Apr. 10.

Other people directly affected by the cuts are the 115 former political prisoners from Cuba and their families, who arrived in Spain in 2010 and 2011 under an agreement reached between Madrid and Havana.

They were faced with the shock of the suspension of the economic aid they were receiving from the Spanish government, which had “already been subject to reductions in the last year,” José Luis Rodríguez, a Cuban dissident granted asylum in Spain, told IPS.

“Our families include children, pregnant women, elderly people, and we have all been abandoned,” said Rodríguez , who has been in this country since April 2011. Under the bilateral agreement they were entitled to financial assistance for a period of 18 months, which could have been extended by the Rajoy administration but was not.

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