Yesterday a UNIR Project debate took place around the issue of irregular immigration and the perceptions and attitudes it generates. The debate counted with the participation of Sebastian Rinken, Ph.D. in Political and Social Sciences from the European University Institute.

The event began with the viewing of a video: the testimony of Ousman Omar, a boy from Ghana who emigrated to Spain when he was just a teenager. In the video, he tells the story of the hard journey he had to make to reach Europe, a very hard journey in which he lost his travel companions. Ousman explains that education is the key to change everything, that only by investing in education can we change the strategy and prevent all these deaths. He believes that with the charity we will never be able to solve the problem of poverty.

Rinken was very positive about the video chosen to open the debate because it focused on empathy. The guest speaker stressed that tolerance or rejection of immigration is a matter of perceptions. He explained that these perceptions can come from the media attention given to certain issues. For example, despite the fact that irregular arrivals in Spain by sea are a very small minority, following the media it could seem that this is not the case. He also insisted that in this country the overwhelming trend is regularity when it comes to immigration. “The vast majority of immigration in Spain is very regularized, but this detail escapes many people.” In addition, he stressed the importance of adjectives when we talk about immigration, since calling a person ‘illegal’ because of his or her administrative situation can lead to many mistakes.

As for the ways of creating fear among a country’s population about immigration, the terrorist attacks on the one hand, and highly mediatized irregular arrivals on the other, stand out. As we have already explained, consuming daily news about irregular immigration has a strong effect on the perception of the fact and tends to overstate it.

In terms of perception, another topic he discussed was the rejection of immigration from the poorest neighborhoods. He explained that it is easy to give an altruistic opinion from the privileged classes, who tend to put on the ethical-moral medal very easily. On the other hand, in poorer neighborhoods, competitiveness can grow because of scarce resources. “No matter how much the data say that there is no overuse of resources by immigrants, if I am an unemployed person with unmet needs and I see that there are immigrants around me who have what I lack, that generates a perception that can lead to rejection.” He added that this perception of grievance can be avoided if there is no lack of resources in neighborhoods with a high concentration of immigrants. He also pointed out that these perceptions tend to grow at times when the economy is deteriorating.

Despite everything, he insisted that in general and in comparison with other countries, the attitude in Spain towards immigration is one of tolerance. “In Spain, we should highlight the predominance of a welcoming attitude, an attitude that has been maintained despite the historical downturn in the labor market during the last crisis”. Always in comparison with other countries, but without underestimating the existing problems of rejection towards immigration, the causes of this tolerance were put on the table in the debate. “There is a wide range of opinions from interest groups that have endorsed and continue to endorse that immigration is more of an opportunity in the aggregate,” Rinken commented.

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