Until When Are You Staying?

Article published on July 10, 2014
Article published on July 10, 2014

The economic crisis and high unemployment rate that shook Spanish society has pushed thousands of young people to cross over the borders to try to make their way into Europe. Brussels, the Belgian capital, home to hundreds of them, many of whom survive on precarious, poorly paid jobs and without social security, for those who are well-prepared.

How long will you be stay­ing for? This is one of the phrases young peo­ple who come to Bel­gium hear most, in search of what they be­lieve is the El Do­ra­do of work. So say Laura and Est­her, friends, but they share much more than the good times and the bad: both are young Span­ish em­i­grants that one day, tired of not find­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties in their home­land, rushed into the ad­ven­ture. They ex­plain that the ar­rival of im­mi­grants from South­ern coun­tries has in­creased the cri­sis. And they no­tice the grow­ing re­jec­tion, by much of so­ci­ety: "they al­ways ask you 'When are you going? When are you stay­ing until?".

Laura is work­ing, but is part of the un­der­ground econ­omy: "I work in a restau­rant with a con­tract for 30 hours, when in re­al­ity I do 60, and take home half the salary in an en­ve­lope." And ap­par­ently, the black mar­ket is quite com­mon. "I know many oth­ers in my sit­u­a­tion," she con­fesses. High taxes and the abun­dancy of new­comer labour from South­ern Eu­ro­pe makes the per­fect breed­ing ground for many em­ploy­ers to take ad­van­tage, cir­cum­vent­ing the Trea­sury and pro­vide pre­car­i­ous con­tracts. It is very dif­fi­cult to quan­tify the prob­lem, but es­ti­mates sug­gest some 300,000 peo­ple affec­ted.

Est­her's case is dif­fer­ent. She is a nurse, has been in Bel­gium for a year and a half and has a good job. "The con­di­tions are bet­ter than in Spain, not only be­cause of the salary," she ex­plains; but the be­gin­ning, she re­mem­bers, was hard. "When you come here you have three months to find a job, if not they send you a let­ter telling you that you are going to be evicted," she says. That in­cludes, she em­pha­sises, the po­lice being able to come to your home. In her case, this sit­u­a­tion did not occur be­cause she found work just be­fore the dead­line, al­though "the Coun­cil Ad­min­is­tra­tion told me they were going to send the po­lice." Last year, 323 Spa­nish res­i­dents re­ceived the evic­tion. Not ex­actly a de­por­ta­tion, strictly speak­ing, it is rather a kind of 'ad­min­is­tra­tive death'. The basic prin­ci­ple of the Eu­ro­pean Union (EU) on the free move­ment of goods, cap­i­tal and labour re­mains the least ques­tioned in re­la­tion to per­sons seek­ing em­ploy­ment.

These are just two of thou­sands of cases across the EU. In fact, the lan­guages which ​​are heard the most in the Bel­gian streets, after French and Flem­ish, are Ital­ian, Greek, Por­tuguese and Castil­ian Span­ish. 


There is no need to re­peat the data. Im­mi­gra­tion has be­come a reg­u­lar oc­cur­rance in 'old Eu­rope', max­i­mized by the eco­nomic cri­sis. The coun­tries most af­fected by it, Gre­ece, Por­tu­gal, Ita­ly or Spain, which have youth un­em­ploy­ment rates hov­er­ing around 50%, lose human cap­i­tal head­ing north. Some talk of a lost ge­ne­ration.  It is es­ti­mated that about mi­llio­n mi­grant work­ers in the EU, ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion from Pablo Simón, pro­fes­sor at the Free Uni­ver­sity of Brus­sels (ULB). Many of these 8 mil­lion are ex­ploited and il­le­gal im­mi­grants. Young peo­ple have al­ways been the most ad­ven­tur­ous when it comes to em­i­grat­ing but Car­los Var­gas, a re­searcher at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ox­ford, stressed to cafeba­bel.​com that "the cri­sis has deep­ened" and that means that they ac­cept jobs for which they are over-qual­i­fied. In many cases, waiv­ing their rights. Mean­while, the Banco de Es­pa­ña's Mario Iz­quier­do, told the mag­a­zine that there is a di­rect re­la­tion­ship be­tween the cri­sis and em­i­gra­tion, but clar­i­fies that not only young Spaniards go, but "also im­mi­grants from other coun­tries who had come to Spain".


Many young peo­ple re­port that they feel lost and are de­mand­ing for more in­for­ma­tion. IN­TE­GRA­BEL tries ​​to give ad­vice. "We are a meet­ing point, a place to make con­tacts," said its gen­eral sec­re­tary, Luis Mo­li­na. She states that there are many cases of Span­ish im­mi­grants "al­most forced to leave due to the level of un­em­ploy­ment" that de­spite hav­ing a good ed­u­ca­tion and being adept in sev­eral lan­guages​​, are faced with a very com­pet­i­tive land­scape. "I call it jok­ingly the Ho­lly­wood of Eu­ro­pe, be­cause many peo­ple come here and there is a lot of com­pe­ti­tion," he says. So some are forced into the black mar­ket. To these peo­ple, Luis would say, "do not ac­cept it or get out of there," even though, he ad­mits the needs that youth peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ence are more than un­der­stand­able.

Juan López, Sec­re­tary of In­sti­tu­tional Re­la­tions of the Span­ish So­cial­ist Work­ers' Party (PSOE) in Eu­ro­pe, recog­nises the prob­lem. He be­lieves that we must act in four areas: more in­for­ma­tion, in and out­side of Spain; adopt a com­mon im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy in Eu­rope, stan­dard­ise uni­ver­sity and pro­fes­sional de­grees and ex­tend the pe­ri­ods of res­i­dence in other coun­tries from 3 to 6 months dur­ing pe­ri­ods of acute cri­sis.

For his part, Pablo Simón, demon­strates the lack of in­for­ma­tion. He con­sid­ers it a pri­or­ity to put pres­sure on the in­sti­tu­tions to en­sure force­ for co­or­di­nated ac­tion to end this sit­u­a­tion. Just be­fore the Eu­ro­pean elec­tions which, in­ci­den­tally, co­in­cide with the Bel­gian fed­eral and re­gional ones, he sees an op­por­tu­nity be­cause "in this elec­tion pe­riod we can make noise to try to at­tack the prob­lem."

Like many young peo­ple, the 15-M move­ment also came from Spain. Its mem­bers in Bel­gium do not be­lieve that im­mi­grants are the prob­lem, but the at­ti­tude of the Bel­gian and Eu­ro­pean au­thor­i­ties. Be­cause of this they are ap­palled by the pos­si­bil­ity of 'ad­min­is­tra­tively killing' cit­i­zens, elim­i­nat­ing their basic rights. So, they de­cided as an As­sem­bly to lodge a for­mal com­plaint with the EU against the ex­pul­sion of EU cit­i­zens by Bel­gium. "We want them to be aware of the prob­lem," pro­claims Sara La­fuen­te, a mem­ber of the group, hop­ing that things will change. "Hope is the last thing to go," she says.

Changes in the com­plex re­al­ity of Eu­ro­pe are dif­fi­cult and slow. Eu­rope is an en­tity of gi­gan­tic pro­por­tions that moves slowly. It seems nec­es­sary to es­tab­lish a more co­he­sive and ef­fec­tive and clear im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy among the 28 mem­ber states of the EU com­mu­nity. Mean­while, time passes, and in Brus­sels and in many other places, you will still hear the Span­ish ac­cent among the voices of em­i­gra­tion. That of Laura, a chef in a fancy restau­rant; that of Es­ther, a geri­atric nurse or Ma­nuel, a mu­si­cian seek­ing em­ploy­ment while dream­ing of em­u­lat­ing his idols and who does not lose his smile while shar­ing a de­li­cious Bel­gian beer to the rhythm of a blues tune, in one of those bars which still has an old juke­box.

THIS AR­TI­CLE IS PART OF THE SPE­CIAL EDI­TION DED­I­CATED TO BRUS­SELS, "EU-to­pia: Time To Vote", a pro­jec­t of Ca­fé­ba­bel in co­lLA­bo­ra­tion with the Hip­pocrène foun­da­tion, THE EU­RO­PEAN COM­MIS­SION, THE MIN­ISTRY OF FOR­EIGN AF­FAIRS AND the EVENS foun­da­tion.