MIGRATION-BOLIVIA: European Dream Becomes a Nightmare

Franz Chávez

LA PAZ, Jul 21 (IPS) - His deportation order from Spain in his pocket, Juan Mercado walks the streets of Madrid for the last time as he waits to board a plane to return to the western Bolivian city of Oruro, with little in the way of savings, but "with dignity," he says clearly and firmly.

Although his case is not yet covered by the European "Return Directive" against undocumented migrants that will enter into force from 2010, Mercado was caught by the police without the necessary documents for staying in Spain, and waived the possibility of obtaining a permanent work permit, he told IPS by e-mail.

The Bolivian embassy in Madrid estimates that some 350,000 Bolivians live in Spain. But only 70,000 have authorisation to work and enjoy social and labour benefits.

Mercado waived the procedure to annul the deportation order because he no longer finds many job opportunities in an economy that is in crisis. He decided instead to go back home to support his wife in looking after their children, who have become unruly since their father left.

"It’s not worth spending my small savings waiting for the economic situation to improve. I plan to go back home to live as a poor person, but with more dignity," he said.

The media in Spain report that 1,700 Bolivian immigrants a month are detained in Spain, equivalent to 20,000 a year, but only 900 a year are deported.

The Bolivian community is one of the most vulnerable groups in Europe, not only because of the lack of documents but also because of their difficulty in adapting to the European lifestyle, Bolivian journalist Edwin Pérez, editor of the magazine Raíz, told IPS.

They tend to rebuild whole families, towns and neighbourhoods in the new country, and this has limited their capacity to interact with other groups or to attend European cultural and social centres, Pérez says.

"If you add to that the growing fear of police detention, we find they are increasingly isolated in a continent where movement within and outside of cities should be easier," he commented.

In 2007, cash remittances sent by Bolivian workers abroad amounted to 869 million dollars, 341 million dollars more than in the previous year, according to a Central Bank report.

This figure represents approximately 12 percent of Bolivia’s gross domestic product (GDP). The largest share comes from people living in Spain, with 35.4 percent of the total, followed by Bolivians in the United States, with 23.6 percent, and Argentina, with 18.6 percent.

Bolivian President Evo Morales spoke emphatically against the restrictive directive on the return of undocumented migrants approved by the European Parliament, and complained that the measure violates human rights. In retaliation, the president required visas for Europeans wishing to enter Bolivia.

Bolivians who go to Europe generally have one of two plans in mind: the first is to settle there and bring over the rest of their family, and the second is to return to Bolivia after accumulating some savings, and start their own business, Pérez said.

For the time being, good behaviour and respect for local laws is the best recommendation possessed by Teresa Suárez, who was born in the eastern Bolivian province of Santa Cruz, and now lives in Madrid with her husband and children.

Suárez blames Spain’s economic crisis for the reduction of her work week. "Previously, I was hired to do cleaning work three times a week, but now it’s only twice a week. I have to readjust the family budget," she told IPS.

Esteban Castro, from the central Bolivian city of Cochabamba, migrated to Spain as a construction worker, but recently lost his job, and is unlikely to find another one because he has no residence papers, he told IPS.

"Fortunately I have computer skills and can do work for fellow Bolivians and other Latin Americans. I used to earn 1,300 euros a month, but now I barely make 800," he said, regretting the failure of his plan to bring his family to Madrid.

Sandra Torrez is a commercial engineer who lived in the United States for two years, but decided to go to Spain, where she faced "a climate of discrimination and disinformation for those who arrive with the dream of a good life and earning good money," she told IPS.

"In a church, the employment coordinator said that newly arrived Bolivians should not be paid much because they don’t understand the value of money, they have no experience and they don’t know how to cook…" Torrez recalled.

She has witnessed plain clothes police enter restaurants and telephone companies where they detain undocumented Bolivians and serve them deportation orders.

Republished from IPS

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