Rights groups condemn Spain over blocking healthcare for immigrants
A Spanish town's plan to deny illegal immigrants access to healthcare has been condemned by human rights groups
A Spanish town's plan to deny illegal immigrants access to healthcare has been condemned by human rights groups and led to a standoff with the national government.
Vic, in the eastern Catalonia region, wants to stop allowing migrants, who make up roughly a quarter of the population of 40,000, to register as residents unless they have visas.
Usually, even illegal immigrants are allowed to register at Spanish town halls, a step which both grants them access to public healthcare and can also after a minimum of three years allow them to apply for a visa to remain legally in Spain.
Spain's Socialist government condemned the plan, which it said violated the basic rights of undocumented foreigners, and threatened to fight it in the courts if it proceeded.
"This is illegal and I hope the the city administration of Vic will behave according to the law," said Immigration Secretary Consuelo Rumi.
But the Spanish government has also hardened its attitude to immigration since the economic crisis laid waste to the construction industry which provided jobs for hundreds of thousands of foreigners.
Alarmed by unemployment running at close to 20 percent, the government has cut the number of working visas by more than 90 percent, tightened rules on family reunification visas and launched a largely unsuccessful programme to persuade jobless migrants to return to their home countries.
The Vic city administration, which includes the Catalan branch of the Socialist Party in a coalition, says it hopes to push ahead with its proposal in February.
Migrant support groups accused the Vic Socialists and their partners of acting out of desperation in an attempt to stop the rise of a small far-right party, Plataforma per Catalunya, which came second in the last local elections.
Mauricio Valiente of the Spanish Commission for Assisting Refugees (CEAR), said the strategy would backfire and legitimise Plataforma, which wants to ban immigration by Muslims. Much of Vic's foreign born population is from North Africa.
"They are just indicating that (Plataforma) is right, and then (Plataforma) will only grow," he told Reuters, adding that anti-immigrant tendencies were rising among local governments.
Spain's conservative opposition Popular Party, which has argued for stricter controls on immigration, also condemned Vic's plans as illegal. But it added that the city's motives were partly economic, as it struggles to pay for social services during Spain's deep recession.
Immigration has transformed Spain since the early 1990s, with the percentage of foreigners going from nominal levels to about 10 percent of the population in just over a decade. Despite the speed and scale of immigration, Spain has suffered relatively few of the tensions seen in other European countries with big migrant populations.
Reuters Last Mod: 15 Ocak 2010, 08:29