Change of heart: Why Spain has been slow to react for refugees

The flood of refugees making the dangerous journey, risking their lives to reach European soil, is surely a test of unity within the politico-economic union.

Countries such as Italy and Greece are continuing to seek joint plans and assistance from their European Union allies for the relocation of refugees arriving from the Middle East, Africa and Asia—one of the largest influxes since World War II. With a considerable amount venturing north through mostly Italy and Greece into countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, it’s interesting to see that one western European country has struggled to be proactive with a comparably low quantity of refugees: Spain.

Spain sits above the Strait of Gibraltar, connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea and Spain to Morocco. For refugees, the goal is to make it into Melilla and Ceuta. These two permanently inhabited Spanish cities in Africa can possibly grant them access to mainland Europe, although many end up taking alternative routes.

Compared to the rest of the EU, Spain is behaving quite sluggishly. According to American Business Magazine, some EU nations have already taken significant steps to ease the crisis. Most notable is Germany, which has received 18,000 refugees over the weekend and has put aside €6 billion to handle the 800,000 asylum requests the country has received. So far this year, Spain’s government has received around 6,000 asylum claims. The Spanish government has recently agreed it would accept its share of migrants under the European commission’s proposed new quota system, according to AFP. They have agreed to take in another 14,931 refugees as proposed by the commission, in addition to the 2,379 it had initially said it would accept before the quota came into fruition. Not only is that a slim amount compared to the rest of the western countries in Europe, but for a country that geographically is also one of the biggest, it seems that their arms aren’t completely wide open.

Perhaps Spain’s unwillingness is due in part to their teetering economy. Unemployment is at a worrisome 22 percent and the youth unemployment is reaching an alarming 48 percent as of June 2015. Spanish citizens also pay a moderately high tax rate on top of that. The idea of welcoming more people into Spanish lands is mostly undesirable from an economic perspective.

Many Spaniards do have a sense of solidarity in helping those refugees in need. “Spain is limited,” said Maria Mijangls, a local woman who has lived in the Basque country of northern Spain her whole life. “Although the reluctance isn’t coming from the people, but more from the politicians. This has become an issue about the solidarity and participation of Europe as a whole.” This proves to be true. Internationally famous Spanish soccer clubs have donated thousands of euros, as well as Catalonia, who has started campaigns with the Red Cross to financially aid more refugee programs. The mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, asked willing families to offer rooms and shelter or to merely help them, which became a huge success. Thousands of Catalans signed up.

Even if refugees do get the chance to reach Europe, there are still plenty of obstacles that face them. As a student at Portland State, it’s common to be introduced to multitudes of culture through means of linguistics, cultural clubs and especially food. Job opportunities are diverse and available on campus and around Portland. In many areas of Europe, that type of variety is slim. Education proves to be difficult due to a lack of linguistic variety in different countries. There are few chances of solidarity for refugees, and mixed communities are hard to find. Many refugees are well-educated college graduates, yet are forced to take basic jobs that do not require experience because of language barriers and job scarcity. Talent may be worldwide, but opportunity isn’t. Refugees are forced to assimilate rather than integrate.

As the EU continues to struggle with properly allocating duties and quotas to the rest of its members, Spain and its citizens, along with the EU, now need to prove that they can work together for the sake of the refugees and their reputation as a unified world power.