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26 May, 2009 04:54

Crisis in Spain hits migrant workers

Once one of Europe's fastest growing economies, Spain has seen its boom years brought to an abrupt end by the financial crisis, and the nation's vast number of migrant workers have been hurt the most by it.

Spain was one of the fastest growing economies in Europe, driven by both a housing boom and by cheap immigrant labour, but the global credit crunch has ground construction to a halt. Built on a housing and construction bubble, the foundations for Spain’s economic success have collapsed.

“Now, all these people who joined the workforce with what we call ’junk’ contracts, work contracts that imply you can be fired whenever. All these people are being fired and losing their jobs at an increasingly fast rate,” economics professor Emiliano Carlucceo says.

Spanish unemployment has reached a record high, with almost one in six out of work. According to the Spanish government, some 200,000 jobs were lost in January alone. Overall more than four million people are out of work

The biggest casualty of this slump is Spain’s famously lenient immigration policy, which the government has had to rethink. Immigrants are now being offered approximately €10,000 to return to their home country for at least three years.

“We are being offered a financial incentive to go home. We’d have to hand in our residency and work permits. But most immigrants feel settled and attached to Spain, and they have financial responsibilities here. They can’t just abandon mortgages, bank loans and debts,” Miriam Zoto from the Association of Ecuadorian Immigrants said.

Of the 5.2 million immigrants in Spain, less than 1% have actually taken up the offer. The rest say they're angry. The country that once welcomed them with open arms now just expects them to pack up and leave.

Luiz, an Ecuadorian immigrant living in Spain, has been out of work for four months now. He was sacked from a construction site in Madrid, as the need for manual labour suddenly dried up.

Seeking advice from the immigrant association, he says he was fired without notice.

“I used to be overloaded with work. Now I have no money coming in, but I can’t afford to go back to Ecuador. My family back there relies on me sending money to them, and the rest of my money should go towards my mortgage in Madrid. I'm completely stuck,” Luiz, whose story is now typical in Spain, said.