“Activism, denunciation and accompaniment of the victims who are being punished for racism and xenophobia”. This is how Juan Guirado (Bullas, Murcia, 1964), spokesman for ‘Living Without Racism’, defines the essential work of the NGO founded in the Region of Murcia in 2000 as a result of the fatal work accident in Lorca, in which 12 died Ecuadorian migrants. Just a few years before that tragic episode that marked a turning point in the history of immigration in the Region of Murcia, at the beginning of the 1990s, a radical change took place in the Murcian countryside: indigenous workers began to be replaced progressively by immigrant labor that arrived in Murcia with the hope of finding a better life away from their country.
Always present in society, although not entirely visible, as a hidden and voracious disease, racism and xenophobia have intensified in the Region in recent times, especially since it has become normalized in daily political discourse after the the emergence and prominence of the extreme right in the Assembly: the xenophobic aggression shouting “Sudaca, they take our food!”, and, above all, the racist crime that took the life of Moroccan Younes Bilal last Sunday night in Mazarrón have been the last racist episodes in the Region of Murcia, a now hostile territory, where in recent months they have gone in crescendo attacks against the migrant population. ‘Living without Racism’, its spokesperson Juan Guirado, and all the people affected by xenophobic violence have not hesitated for a second to take to the streets to claim and protect their rights, to be with the victims, to offer them their unconditional help .
In just one week there has been a racist murder in Mazarrón and a racist attack in Cartagena in the Region of Murcia. Could two such serious acts be expected in such a short time?
Because they are so recent, we look at these events with a short sight. Perhaps they may seem isolated situations, which have nothing to do with the very long time that this Region has been treating those who come from abroad in a way that is not correct. But we think that in recent years there has been an increase in racism. In recent years, an explosive device has been placed at the door of a juvenile center, as happened in December 2019 in Alhama de Murcia. There have also been protests against the reception of immigrants by boat during the pandemic, or the most recent last summer, in Los Nietos, when they transferred people who were being protected. Furthermore, exploitative abuses against migrant workers are systematically carried out in the countryside.
Everything that has happened in recent times has gradually cemented this rejection, and has finally come to have tragic consequences. When a person only knows how to look through the lens of hatred, they can commit murder. It is not enough to believe that this could happen, but the climate that is being breathed in the Region, that of giving wings to the extreme right, is generating a social climate where their hate speech is increasingly visible in all countries. areas, in leisure, in social gatherings, in the workplace … If we do not give importance to all these things, if the correct measures are not taken, if we are not at the side of the victims, we will continue causing this to happen. kind of tragedies.
More and more graffiti with racist messages are seen on many walls in different parts of the community. Is there more racism in the Region of Murcia than in other parts of Spain?
We have contact with other anti-racist groups in other regions of the country, in addition to the reports published by the hate prosecutor’s office, or the official statistics on racism crimes. And, indeed, I believe that in this Region there is an important advance of racism. I do not think that the graffiti is the substantial thing, but in the Region of Murcia they have been settling and accepting situations that are unacceptable for a calm and peaceful coexistence. It is not possible to consent, as is happening, that a foreigner has a checking account blocked because he has not been able to renew his papers or that minors may be on the street because they have not been properly treated. They are not looking for an adequate resource. It is a situation that explodes, and that makes us observe clearly the world in which we live.
So many nonsense has been happening here that we cannot see the dimension of racism in this Region, all the xenophobia that is installed in a more than normalized way. In addition, there is also no rejection of the public institution on this issue. We are missing institutional representatives approaching the family and friends of the murdered person to tell them: “We are here with you, we are concerned about your safety.”
You just mentioned it. No government representative from the Region of Murcia has made any official statement after the murder. What do you think?
It is something very serious. In the institutions that should provide security. That the rulers are not responsible to approach the family, or to make an official statement, it seems to me that they do not dignify the position they occupy. They must side with the victims. We have to know that they consider people who are murdering. If not, this type of aggression becomes even more normal, and we do not know what may happen in the future. That is indeed an insecurity for many people who come to this earth and do not know what can happen to them tomorrow.
To what extent can racist and hate speech from the extreme right contribute to increasing xenophobic tension in the Region of Murcia?
The extreme right has come to normalize this type of speech. The hatred of the different is favored, the one who does not think like me, the macho hatred, the homophobic hatred. All that hate speech is a constant. In addition, it is a speech that in this case points to a vulnerable group. They are preventing protection, protection policies from being implemented or laws being developed. It is serious, also, because the rest of the parties consent to it. There are parties that rely on them to stay in government. This is just as dangerous. Those speeches are validated by those who do not fight them in parliament. Stronger action is needed against these speeches because this Region cannot be allowed to be filled with hatred.
What steps must be taken to establish that stronger action?
There is a need to implement social cohesion policies that respect people’s human rights, that allow adequate schooling, that allow the development of the beliefs of all. Measures are needed to defeat the policies of fear, policies that persecute those who are harassing them with racist speeches. We must all make the effort to live and coexist. Respect is a daily commitment that is built, but not excluding, separating, or segregating. The history of racism is full of dehumanization towards different people. It is an old strategy carried out by totalitarians. We thought that it was impossible that one could kill out of hatred, and it is already murdered out of hatred. As we are not aware of the mortal leap that has occurred with this murder, we will continue to experience brutal episodes like the one that has occurred in the future.
Many migrants came to the Region of Murcia to work in the fields in the 1990s. Some have lived here for three decades, why the increase in racism now?
What exists is a segregation of these people, although the majority of people live together in the neighborhoods or at work. However, the way we interact is not normalizing. Different cultures or different beliefs are not understood. Either you are as I want, or we bundle it, because I am not going to allow you to discuss that space with me. I’m not going to value you as a person, but as a workforce, or as something that I can take advantage of. There are successive policies of segregation in neighborhoods, or in schools, where migrants are not allowed access, which causes them to concentrate in specific neighborhoods. Islamic culture centers are also prevented from opening. All these prejudices have accumulated over time.
The people who have been here for three decades are no longer migrants. They have been here longer than many people born on this earth, and they are busy carrying out the most complex and most precarious jobs, and they carry this Region forward. Just as we destroy the environment without caring, it is also done with the labor that works our fields. It’s crazy to keep dehumanizing people. It is not normal that there is hardly any political representation in town councils or in the Community of people who are not white, who are not Murcian. Where are the police officers of another nationality, where are the journalists who come from another country? Where is that plurality of voices, that diversity of opinions? Everything is based on normalizing racism and discrimination situations that corrupt coexistence and democracy every day.
On Tuesday there was a concentration in Mazarrón for the murdered young man. Another is expected in Murcia on Sunday. How necessary are these demonstrations to vindicate the rejection of the escalation of the events that occurred this week?
First, I consider that it is essential to do acts of recognition, of memory, of respect, of solidarity with the family and friends of the murdered. It is important to make visible that justice is demanded for Younes. These acts are of respect and solidarity, of anger, of pain, of being able to express those feelings together. It is difficult to meet, and there has to be a space where we feel that we can recognize ourselves among other people who are denouncing the same thing that I think. Let us demand justice, let us ask for reparation, justice for the family. It must be supported financially and morally. That is what must be claimed. Younes’s murder cannot be forgotten.
Do you think that the media sometimes contribute to creating a negative image of the migrant or even sending racist messages?
Yes. I think they contribute to sending these racist messages by using sensationalism in the news, by not approaching the suffering of the victims. Last Tuesday, there were many people in the protests for the murder of Younes, but the news coverage was from two local media from Mazarrón and another journalist from a national media. The media have the obligation to give a voice to those who do not have a voice, to give truthful information, but close, not at a distance. If this had happened in another place in Spain, in Madrid, or in Barcelona, we would be talking about the true dimension of a racist attack. The media have an obligation to give importance to this event, but they have not done it enough.