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IMMIGRATION

Spain’s Galicia welcomes back thousands of Venezuelans

Decades ago, they left their homes in northwestern Spain in their thousands for Venezuela, fleeing poverty or attracted by promises of oil riches.

Spain's Galicia welcomes back thousands of Venezuelans
Venezuelans Fernando Sabatino (L), his wife Francis Fernandez (R) and their daughter Danyelys pose in Vigo. All photos by Miguel Riopa

 

Now, many are coming back to Galicia — or at least their descendants are — escaping an acute crisis in Venezuela for the remote Spanish region and lured by authorities there faced with an ageing population.

Carlos Veiga, a 44-year-old from Caracas whose parents were from Galicia, arrived in Vigo, an industrial coastal city surrounded by green mountains, in November with his wife and two sons.

And swapping the Caribbean for the rough, stormy sea of the Atlantic was a shock.

“We arrived and they had to send me and my son to hospital urgently for alung infection because of the cold and rain,” he tells AFP.   

“Thanks to my parents, I was able to get the Spanish nationality, which I never thought I would use.”

Grandchildren, great-grandchildren

Back in Venezuela, Veiga was kidnapped for ransom. The ordeal only lasted a few hours, but it was the last straw for him.   

Venezuelan migrant Carlos Veiga poses in Vigo, northwestern Spain

That, and a general lack of medicine in Venezuela, including vaccines for his kids, pushed him to leave the country.   

He is one of thousands who have escaped in the past years, many opting to come to Spain despite its recent economic crisis and sky-high unemployment.   

Of these, thousands go to Galicia, where incentives are promoted by authorities encouraging migrants to return to a region that saw part of its population flee poverty for Latin America in the 20th century.

The regional government has said it will provide €2.2 million ($2.6 million) in aid this year for migrants who return.   

“Galicia has demographic problems, a high rate of elderly people,” said Antonio Rodriguez Miranda, in charge of migration for the regional government.

“Many people left and now they can go full circle and their grandchildren or great-grandchildren can return to their homeland.”   

Galicia has some 2.7 million inhabitants, of whom close to 24,300 are Venezuelan, according to the last official statistics from January 2017.   

 


Venezuelan Susana (L) and her mother (no name given) pose in Vigo, northwestern Spain.

But Venezuelan associations say the number of arrivals has soared since then.

Eight out of every 10 people who ask for the subsidy for returning migrants are Venezuelan, according to the regional government.   

Veiga was unable to sell off his construction company in Venezuela, just like many others in the country where the deep economic crisis is hindering the sale of property or goods to emigrate.

So he lives off a subsidy of €428 a month, expected to last 18 months.

But despite the financial struggle, he says his family is recovering “a quality of life that we lost in Caracas”.

Torn between both countries

Hermosinda Perez left the coastal Galician town of Muros when she was 17 in the 1950s, when Venezuela's massive oil reserves brought promises of a brighter future.

Six decades later, she returned to Galicia with a heavy heart, as there was no oxygen available in Venezuela for her husband's pulmonary emphysema.   

“It's sad, because I came back to my country, but that (Venezuela) is my country too,” the 80-year-old says darkly in the living room of the two-bedroom flat in central Vigo she shares with her 43-year-old daughter, son-in-law and two granddaughters, who are eight and six.   

“I never thought I would come back. I was fine out there, I have it all there, the house, a beach flat, my life,” she says.   

Perez can't get her Venezuelan pension as Caracas stopped paying it to people abroad two years ago, so she relies on her daughter who along with her husband invested their savings in a small cigarette shop in Vigo.   

With Spain's 16.7 percent unemployment rate jobs are scarce, but Venezuelans still find posts in restaurants, factories, call centres or as cleaners.

Venezuelans Monica Janeiro (R) and Briahayan Diaz pose in Vigo.

But for Monica Janeiro, these difficulties are worth it.   

Her family had to rely on the Caritas charity for food vouchers and on the Red Cross for courses to enter the job market.   

“I may not have much, but we lead a tranquil life and compared to Venezuela, it's great,” she says.

By AFP's Diego Urdaneta

 

POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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