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Spanish Police Accused Of Racially Profiling


Let's turn now to the economic struggles in Europe and a country that has been especially hard hit. Spain has been struggling with 25 percent unemployment, failing banks, a collapsing housing market, and sweeping cuts in government spending. As the country's economic crisis deepens, human rights groups are noting an alarming trend - minorities are being stopped by police more frequently.

Amnesty International is accusing police in Madrid of having monthly quotas for detentions based on skin color. There are fears this may be a way to push immigrants out at a time when jobs are scarce. Lauren Frayer reports from the Spanish capital.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Lan Yara came to Spain from Mali in West Africa five years ago. He got refugee status and a spot at the local university studying telemarketing. He taught himself Spanish and pays taxes here. But he says he can't shake the feeling that Spain doesn't want him. He gets stopped by the police often.

LAN YARA: (Through translator) You'll be in the street, totally calm and not doing anything, and always the Spanish police will stop you. OK, sure, it's normal for them to ask for your documents, but sometimes even when you show them, they still take you down to the police station. That's what I think is unfair. It really bothers us. Being an immigrant doesn't mean you're not worth anything.

FRAYER: Yara is not alone. Amnesty International says that since the economic crisis hit in 2008, Madrid police have increasingly used racial profiling to try to discourage immigrants from staying here.

MARIA SERRANO: Minorities are singled out just because of their appearance.

FRAYER: Maria Serrano, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International, says the group has learned about quotas for Africans, Arabs and even Latinos.

SERRANO: We have documented how some people are stopped three, four, six times a day, and they are already known by the police officers, that's what they told us. So they feel that they are not welcome.

FRAYER: Amnesty says racial profiling is illegal according to international law, but acknowledges that Spanish law is vague when it comes to establishing grounds for questioning someone. Whether or not such quotas are legal, they may be having the intended effect. Economist Fernando Fernandez, at Madrid's IE Business School, says the number of illegal immigrants in Spain has decreased in recent years.

FERNANDO FERNANDEZ: Which was to be expected in a crisis, because illegal immigrants are not necessarily stupid. They're illegal, which is a different thing. It doesn't seem very attractive to come to Spain to find a job when you have five million unemployed people.

FRAYER: A poor job market, plus discrimination, could be driving people away. Still, Spain has not seen the rise of right wing anti-immigrant political factions, like those in France, Greece and the Netherlands.

In a park near his university, Yara, from Mali, chats with fellow immigrants about possibly giving up on his dream of being a telemarketer here and just going home.

YARA: (Through translator) So many times when I've been mistreated here, I think about going home, so I don't have to endure such discrimination. It's unfair.

FRAYER: One of Yara's friends, a Moroccan named Mohamed, chimes in.

MOHAMED: (Through translator) I'd prefer to suffer in my own country rather than here. That's the truth. But you can't make much money back home. You work hard for nothing there.

FRAYER: So for now the two friends smoke cigarettes in the park, dodging the police and speculating about how long the economic crisis and their woes will continue.

For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.