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Spotlight on immigrants in Spain

March 03, 2015
tags:#23 30 a captive story, #David Marrades, #Foreign Internment Centre, #immigrants, #Spain
by:Pablo Pérez Álvarez
David Marrades is a young Spanish audiovisual producer who has just filmed “23 30 a captive story”, close to be released. The purpose of this documentary is to denounce the treatment of undocumented immigrants in his country’s obscure Foreigners Internment Centres.

Where did you get the figures in the title, 23 30?

That’s the number assigned to one of the documentary’s protagonists, the Senegalese Mourtada Seck, when he entered in the Foreign Detention Centre of Madrid and I think is very symbolic because in a way it represents the detachment of the personality once you’re inside one of this centres. The internees are no longer people with a name, a surname, a past, a motivation… and they become just numbers. This is very representative of the approach by the repressive system of the State toward these people. They are seen as numbers. Their deprivation of liberty is very much easier, bureaucratized in that way.

These places are then like detention centres?

They are kept in a place from where they are no able to leave. And they have not committed any crime. They are just in an irregular administrative situation, whose equivalent for a Spanish citizen would be the non-payment of a traffic ticket. Because of a misdemeanour they lose their rights, they cannot be in their houses or in the street and are locked in. In many cases they are denied many basic rights: from medical care (this fact has even caused two deaths in the last years), to an education, to leisure… Besides, visits are regulated in a very arguable way, as they have only 10 or 15 minutes a day.

When is an immigrant confined in a Foreign Internment Centre?

In many cases, they are caught in racial raids, which are illegal. Even police unions have objected them. Spanish law forbids stopping somebody in the street and asked him for his documents only because he is black, without any crime evidence. Sometimes, authorities are preparing a deportation flight to Senegal for undocumented immigrants from this country and they have to complete it. So they order the police to search for black people, to ask them for their documents and, if these are not in order, to send them to the Foreign Internment Centres. For the documentary, we get an internal police document that indicates the neighbourhoods where the agents must go and what kind of people they have to get. It even says: “Forget about the Bolivians. Go better for the Moroccans”.

Why did you decide to make this documentary?

There are many people in Spain campaigning for the undocumented immigrants, but the impact in the media doesn’t match with their action. In the news, the immigrant is perceived as a threat perched on a wall, in an effort to make a distinction between them and us. I wanted to shorten the distance and offer a more empathic view. My proposal is to tell personal stories, to show that the motivations of the people in the documentary, their experiences, are no so different to ours. They are just searching for a life a little bit better.

Did you get access to some of these centres?

No, I didn’t get the permission. I only could film them from outside. I also asked interviews to their principals, but they all refused it. It’s not just me. Neither the organizations defending the internees’ rights are allowed to get into them, although according the new regulation the NGOs should have access. Journalist cannot access, for lawyers and social workers it is difficult to get in, it’s not easy to talk with policemen in charge of the centres and principals don’t want to talk. The only direct source to know what happened in there are the internees.

Why this opacity? And what are the consequences of it?

I think it is because the existence of this centres is very difficult to justify. Even people with social conscience are unaware of their existence. There has been an attempt to hide them. Evidently, all this opacity creates an scenario where the individual guarantees are under threat. There were a very representative example of this in 2006, when a group of women confined in the centre of Malaga (south) claim to have been submit to sexual abuses by the policemen in charge in exchange of certain “favours”, like to be let them phone to their countries. This was in 2006 and the centre was closed in 2012.

What do you think it would happen if people were aware of the reality of these centres?

I think that if we all had access and knew what’s happening in there, impunity would be much more difficult. If the legal and moral figure of the Foreign Internment Centres is by itself arguable enough, the opacity around them makes them something even more sinister.

Have some of the cases that you show in the documentary struck you particularly?

I tell the story of Peggy, who is the wife of Austin Johnson, a Nigerian citizen who had been living in Spain for ten years. One day he loses his job –as many Spaniards these days- and his stay in the country becomes irregular. Being Peggy with a six-months pregnancy, Austin is arrested and sent to a Foreign Internment Centre. The day that he declares to a judge, the prosecutor who had to do the report is absent. Even so, he is deported to Nigeria six days before his daughter’s birth. During the flight he suffers ill treatment and when he gets his country has to be in a hospital for three days. When I interviewed Peggy, she told me her one-and-a-half-years daughter hasn’t yet met her father. Their project of life has been destroyed. This is what these centres represent. What has this man do to lose his family, to lose his daughter, to lose it all?

Article written by:
pablo perez
Pablo Pérez Álvarez
David Marrades
© Youtube, Pablo Pérez Álvarez
The Spanish trailer of \'23 30\'
The Spanish trailer of "23 30"
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