Catalonia readies national accord to empower immigrants

It aims to employ a larger number of foreigners in civil service, but NGOs demand specifics

You only need to take a look at some of the figures to appreciate the inequalities between native Catalans and foreign residents in Catalonia. The unemployment rate among the native population is 9.7 per cent while the same figure for foreign residents is 20.8 per cent. Poverty risk among the former is 15.7 per cent, whereas it is 41.6 for the latter. In fact, very few immigrants hold management positions in the public administration, companies of media, as Oriol Amorós, the Catalan government’s Secretary for Equality, Migrations and Citizenry readily admits. He says that they must “ensure that diversity is no longer invisible”. Achieving this goal and empowering immigrants by encouraging their mingling with the rest of society is one of the three objectives of the national accord for interculturality which the government is readying. The initiative also aims to promote the inclusion of immigrants, as well as raise awareness of them and boost their recognition. Still, NGOs insist that the accord shouldn’t be “merely declarative” and they have asked for specific measures.

In 2008 we already had a national accord for immigration. At that time 14.99 per cent of the Catalan population was foreign. In 2017 the figure dropped to 13.78 per cent and it’s hovered around 15 per cent over the last decade. But immigrants have not been represented to the same extent in Catalan society during this time. Amorós claims that “not everyone is represented in the Catalan administration and police force. Things have got better in Parliament, but people queuing at food banks do not represent the full spectrum of society”. Still, he mentions the case of Employment Minister Chakir el Homrani —the first Catalan minister with Moroccan ancestry— and MP Najat Driouech, the first ever representative to wear a hijab in Parliament, both of whom will help to roll out measures to give visibility to “all origins”.

Amorós pointed out that the national accord for interculturality is one of the main pledges of minister El Homrani for this term. The Secretary for Equality, Migrations and Citizenry said there is not a set date to unveil the accord “because the process is more important than the end result”. “The process must foster a profound debate on what Catalan society is about and how all this diversity can be woven into a single human fabric”, said Amorós. On this point, he noted that “Catalonia is the European nation that has changed the most in the 21st century” because the population has risen by 20 per cent in little over a decade, with over one million foreign-born newcomers.

Nevertheless, Catalonia’s Taula del Tercer Sector (“Board for the Third Sector), which brings together over 3,000 Catalan charities, has made it clear that “there can be no interculturality until there are equal opportunities for all”. Javier Bonomi, the Taula spokesperson on immigration issues and chairman of Fedelatina, remarked that “this ought to be the cornerstone [of the project]”, and he called on the government to earmark “funds” and lay down “a road map” for the accord. “In order to avoid what we have seen in other European countries, we must try to help migrants break through their glass ceiling. They should be able to get a job in the state sector so that, for instance, people from different backgrounds may enter the teaching profession”, he added.

An appreciation of foreign languages

In order to increase the presence of immigrants in fields where so far they haven’t been so visible, Amorós is certain that in Catalonia’s case the national accord must target the administration, too. One of the options being considered to increase the number of migrants in the civil service is to regard a knowledge of foreign languages as a merit in entrance exams. “If public employees are able to deal with the public in other languages, that is an additional merit”, said Amorós. Bonomi concurred with him and he argued for positive action and training schemes that allow migrants to gain employment in the public sector. The Taula spokesman cited the examples of the new vacancies in the Catalan and Barcelona City police: specific training programmes have been devised for immigrants in order to “give them the resources” that would allow them to pass the entrance exams.

Amorós is also hopeful that the accord will prompt companies and associations “to ask themselves if their staffs are diverse enough”. As for the presence of migrants in media, it is a government policy —supported by the Board of Journalists— to create an expert guide that lists people from all ethnic backgrounds so that they are more visible. “If a more diverse society can be made visible, our outlook will change”, Amorós predicted. He believed that “the cure to racism is to have a friend with a different skin colour”. Nevertheless, Bonomi warns that “if the national accord is all political talk but no action, we will have seen two generations of newcomers go by and we’ll still be stuck in the same place”.

“When will I stop being an immigrant?”

Amorós admitted that a question that keeps coming up with people who have settled in Catalonia is: “When will I stop being an immigrant?”. He argues that “you should be a migrant while you are travelling from A to B”, but he admits that there is no single answer to that question. According to him, it depends on every individual person as well as the rest of society. However, he is optimistic and claims that “Catalonia will continue to be one people made up of individuals that came from all over”.

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