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Europe

Moroccan Immigrants Mourn With Spain

Moroccan immigrants in Spain are showing solidarity with the victims of the Madrid bombings during Wednesday's official memorials. Their message: Islam does not equal terrorism.

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"Islam doesn't kill": A Muslim woman after the attacks

Bombs don't differentiate between nationalities: At least 50 foreigners were killed during the attacks on commuter trains on March 11. Many among them were so-called "sin papeles," people without papers, foreigners who have no permit to stay in Spain. Between half a million and 800,000 illegal immigrants live in the country, according to Spanish trade union UGT. It could be more.

During his time in office, outgoing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar had fought against these "illegals" -- his immigration policy mainly focussed on containment via police controls.

That's why an offer by Aznar's government immediately following the attacks came as a surprise: Foreigners injured in the attacks and relatives of those who had died will be able to receive residence permits and even become Spanish citizens under certain circumstances.

Restraint, not criticism

"That's a human gesture," said Mustapha El-Mrabet, who heads the Association of Moroccan Workers in Spain (Atime), but added that he had expected such gestures much earlier. More than 300,000 Moroccans live legally in Spain. The unknown rest lives on the edge of society: Many hide from the police, they work for virtually no money in agriculture or on construction sites. But during the days following the attacks, El-Mrabet avoided harsh criticism.

Bombenanschlag Madrid Studenten Protestkundgebung Spanien

Students hold up their white painted hands during a spontaneous protest against the attacks.

Tactfulness is needed now and that's especially true as the alleged terrorist trail leads to Morocco. Immediately after the attacks, Atime called on Moroccan immigrants to demonstrate against terror to bring across the message that Islam and terrorism have nothing in common.

Two weeks after the bombings, racist attacks did not happend as feared by many Moroccans. "I'm certain that Spaniards can distinguish between terrorists and the Moroccan immigrants who live here peacefully," El-Mrabet told DW-WORLD.

At least three Moroccans died in the attacks, more than 30, include several "sin papeles," were severely injured. "We're all victims of this barbarianism," El-Mrabet said, adding that he hopes the new Socialist government will bring about a shift in immigration policy. "The political discourse on this topic has to change."

The conservative government under Aznar had fed fears of an immigrant invasion and rising crime rates. "Aznar only targeted the emotions of Spaniards, but not their intelligence," El-Mrabet said, adding that Aznar changed the immigration law three times during his tenure without improving things.

Crossing the sea in search of a better life

Illegaler Einwanderer in Tarifa, Spanien

Would-be immigrants are helped by Spanish soldiers on the Punta Paloma beach in Tarifa, Spain in 2003. Some 50 immigrants survived the crossing arriving in a small boat from Morocco.

Almost daily, people from Morocco, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Senegal and other African countries risk their lives to cross the Gibraltar Straits in rubber boats. Along the Andalusian coastline, where many Germans and British people spend their summer holidays, Aznar installed radar and infrared systems, which can locate an object as small as a soccer ball floating in the water.

It didn't help much: "Immigrants figure out different routes," said Juan Miralles, who heads the organization "Almeria Acoge," which looks after illegal immigrants. In Almeria province, foreigners make up more than 20 percent of the population in some villages and towns. Immigrants from more than 80 countries, many increasingly from eastern European countries such as Romania or Russia, work in one of the thousands of green houses, where tomatoes and peppers are grown.

The situation in the province has been tense for years. "The immigrants have no papers," Miralles said. "Without them, they can't get apartments or legal employment." As a result, many immigrants live in deserted houses or unused green houses and loiter on village squares.

The worst-case scenario became reality a few years ago: Residents of the town of El Ejido chased Moroccans after a mentally disabled immigrant killed a young woman. Miralles doesn't believe something like that will happen again.

"People learn to live with each other despite all the difficulties," he said. Miralles is still angry, and not just because of Spain's immigration policies. He's also criticizing Brussels for simply trying to secure the EU's external borders and neglecting integration. By doing so, conflicts are bound to arise, he said.

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