Challenges of Integration

Integration is a two way process

Jan 17th

This was one of the messages conveyed by George Thomas, member of the PSOE Executive in Xàbia in a talk entitled "The Challenges of Integration" given at the Casa de Cultura on Monday January 17th. Born in Scotland, George has worked in many countries learning Arabic, Russian and Spanish (and a little Valenciano) in the process. This time, he was talking in English to an audience of around 60 , mostly expatriates, in the 5th lecture in the series "Forum for Change" organised by Xàbia PSOE.

George pointed out that more than half of the residents registered on the Town Register (Padrón) were foreigners, and yet they were peripheral to the political landscape of the town. Only about 12 per cent of the foreigners on the Padrón who were elegible to vote were also signed up on the electoral roll. In addition there were an estimated 10,000 more foreigners living in Jávea who were not even on the Padrón (signifying a loss of two million euros to the town hall coffers).

The main challenge to integration was language, especially amongst the largest single group of expatriates, the English speakers, who are notoriously bad linguists and who had developed their own, self-contained "little Britain" which provided British shops and services so that mastering Spanish was not necessary in their day to day lives. The improvement of Spanish language skills among foreigners is promoted by the Alicante government through free courses, and there are also initiatives supported by the town hall such as: "intercambios" (where Spanish and English speakers meet and talk in each other's language) and "Hablemos + !" (Let's talk - group exchanges). It should be remembered as a high proportion of the foreign residents are pensioners who retired to Jávea to enjoy its beautiful landscape, pleasant climate and slow pace of living, At this stage in life, they find it difficult to learn a new language. However these people have experience, wisdom and skills to contribute to their adopted home and could be an additional resource of expertise. In at least one town in Alicante province, English speaking residents helped to teach English to unemployed Spaniards, and thus improve their job opportunities.

George emphasised that integration was a two way process - both communities should reach out to each other. He cited the city of Calvià which has a high proportion of foreign residents and a municipal web site which provides important information in several languages.
Simple, low cost changes to Town Hall management could make people feel more inclusive, and not just expatriates. He mentioned the experience of the town of L’Eliana which encouraged citizen participation to such a degree that they set up a Children’s Committee, members being elected from local high schools. They debate issues relating to children and report to the Mayor on matters which should be done to make the town more child friendly.
The town of Sax has among its many social care programs, a service whereby volunteers using electric golf buggies take housebound elderly people to visit friends occasionally.

Members of the audience contributed their own observations, noting that in Moraira / Teulada, town hall councillors held regular meetings with foreign residents conducted in German, English and French. One listener voiced concerns about possible discrimination against foreigners. They had phoned Xàbia town hall several times in Spanish to report street lights which had fallen in a storm. They had been passed from one department to another and nothing had been done. Other members of the audience suggested that this may have been due to misunderstandings and poor Town Hall management rather than discrimination. Yet the impression of discrimination is difficult to dispel.

Another resident pointed out that the that they did not know what was going on in Jávea. For example they did not have details about the Car Parks issue. Such issues of concern to all the community could help bring people together, as had happened in Parcent where citizens, both local and foreign, came together to fight plans for a large urban development.

Another member, noted that the Agenda21 process, which was supposed to be the forum for citizen participation, had started off with live translation This had fallen away and the forum had shrunk in recent times. Everyone should be clear as to what "Citizen Participation" means - and that includes all political parties.

The host for the meeting, socialist leader José Chulvi, reminded everyone of a quote which he had heard at a forum on immigration recently: "There is no way to peace. Peace is the way." In Jávea's case the way to "conviviencia" was to live together.

He emphasized the importance of getting opinions, ideas and inputs from all members of the community and highlighted the structure of Xàbia's tourism committee (which had functioned when he had been councillor for tourism a few years ago). This had been composed not only of politicians, but also individuals and representatives of businesses and associations involved in the local tourism industry. This was the way forward. Chulvi thanked representatives of the English language press for being present and hoped that before the coming elections, they would report the policies of the different parties clearly so that people could make an informed choice. He also remarked that people on Jávea's socialist party list will be chosen on their ability and qualities as individuals rather than their ideological bias.

Chris Betterton-Jones
Member of the audience

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