The 46-year-old British man whose body was found in a flat in Barcelona on October 8th has been identified as Derek Cowan, who had been living in Spain for the past seven years. The Scottish businessman was found bludgeoned to death in a pool of blood by his German business partner. Detectives investigating the murder want to interview a former business associate, William Madley, who was due to meet with Mr Cowan on the day he was found dead. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office have confirmed that they are in contact with the Spanish authorities and a full investigation is underway by the Catalan regional police, Los Mossos d’Esquadra.
The Guardia Civil have arrested the man suspected of killing a Senegalese immigrant which sparked of several days of disturbances and house burning in Roquetas de Mar, Almeria province, over two weeks ago. The man, named as Juan José aka El Bollo, had been hiding out in a farm in an unpopulated area which was difficult to access. A Guardia spokesman said the owners of the farm were in no way connected to the man.
Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba has announced the creation of the Foreign Delinquents Expulsion Brigade (BERDEX) which will enter into action next month. The new Brigade will pursue and capture foreigners engaged in terrorist activities, organised crime and those accused of domestic violence who are repeat offenders or use excessive violence. The Brigade’s priority will then be to repatriate them as quickly as possible.
By the end of last week, the Guardia Civil had arrested four men – three Spaniards and a Moroccan – in connection with the death of a Sengalese immigrant the previous weekend which had led to rioting and house burning in the 200 Viviendas district of the small town of Roquetas del Mar in Almeria province. All four are under age and are currently being held in juvenile internment centres on charges of instigating the disturbances. By mid-week, the local authorities and the police made it quite clear that the death had nothing to do with drugs. Apparently, Ousmane Kote, 28, was on his way to ring his family in Senegal from a local call office when he saw a friend of his in an argument with a Spaniard. At this point one of the youths detained threw a bucket of water at the people in the street, complaining about the noise they were making, just as Kote was trying to defuse the situation. Angered by the water throwing, the Spaniard turned on Kote and stabbed him in the stomach. At the time of going to press, the police had not arrested the attacker but said they had identified him and had issued a search and capture warrant.
The fatal stabbing of a Senegalese immigrant in Roquetas del Mar, Almeria, late last Saturday night sparked off street battles between immigrants and police after the former burned down the houses of the two men who they said had committed the murder. The rioting immigrants refused to let the fire brigade approach to houses to put out the blazes and threw stones, bottles and other objects at they police when they tried to intervene. They then set fire to six officials cars in disturbances that lasted until 5 am on Sunday, when the police finally managed to get the situation under control. One Guardia Civil suffered a minor knee injury. Roquetas del Mar, together with El Ejido and La Mojonera has the highest number of immigrants in Almeria province, attracted by the work available at the huge number of greenhouses in the area. At the time of going to press, the police had not announced any arrests.
Labour and immigration Minister Celestino Corbacho cause a bit of a storm last week when he said that he proposed to lower the contracting of immigrant workers in their home countries to zero as soon as possible. Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega quickly stepped in to correct the minister, saying the contract agreement made with several African countries were still valid, after farmers complained they would have no experienced workers to pick their crops. One told reporters: “The Spanish don’t want to do this work because it’s hard and dirty so we’ve spent years training all these foreigners to do it instead. If we have to employ Spaniards again we’ll probably lose the crop the first year.” The foreigners’ associations are also unhappy, saying that the minister is blaming the workers for the lack of jobs for Spaniards. In fact, many foreigners, especially Latin Americans, have been accepting the government offer of around €18,000 to those who volunteer to go back to their home and not return to Spain for three years, when the government expects the economic crisis will have abated. The scheme applies to the citizens of 19 non-EU countries which share social security agreements with Spain. In just a decade, Spain’s immigrant population rose by 800%, and cheap immigrant labour was a vital factor in the construction-led economic boom. As long as there was work to go round, Spain mostly avoided the kind of immigration-related tensions witnessed in other European countries. Today, however, with an EU-high unemployment rate of 10.7%, the picture looks very different. For the time being, the 2.1 million foreigners registered for Spanish social security are net contributors to the system – paying in more than they receive. But over the past 12 months, the number of immigrants claiming unemployment benefit has surged by 81%, to 178,230 in July 2008. Under the new scheme, scheduled for launch in September, participating immigrants would receive two years worth of up-front unemployment benefits – 40% when they volunteer for the scheme in Spain, the rest on arrival back in their country of origin. To qualify, they would have to surrender their Spanish work and residence papers for the duration of the deal. But immigrant welfare groups view the policy with suspicion. A spokesman for the Hispano-Ecuadorean Foundation in Madrid said: “We feel we’ve been used. When they needed cheap labour, the doors opened. And now they don’t need us, they just say ‘thank you and goodbye’ – and expect us to go back to our own countries.” But Mr Corbacho has denied that Spain is ungrateful for the contribution made by immigrants, or that foreigners are being made scapegoats for the country’s economic woes. He said: “Immigration is not a problem, it’s a phenomenon, and phenomena are never neutral – they change a lot of things and create new challenges. Our challenge is to manage this phenomenon, so that our diverse, multicultural society avoids conflict in the future.” Other EU governments, facing similar challenges, will no doubt be closely monitoring the Spanish scheme’s progress.
It started out as a mission of mercy and nearly ended in tragedy. The Alicante fishing boat Clot de L’Illot rescued 49 would-be immigrants from Somalia in mid-Mediterranean last Wednesday. The problem was that the immigrants thought the boat was taking them to its home port of Santa Pola but it was in fact heading for Tripoli. When the boat docked there the men mutinied, locked themselves in one of the holds and refused to disembark. Fortunately, the ship’s captain, José Russo, had ordered his 13-man crew to hide all the knives on board, telling them: “These people are desperate and capable of anything.” As it was, the Somalis threatened to set the boat on fire and told Russo’s 20-year-old son that if they’d known they were going to be taken to Tripoli they would have killed all the Spaniards. They finally abandoned the boat after Libyan security forces managed to force 14 of them out of the hold. Captain Russo said: “We started out as saviours then had to be saved ourselves.”