The souls that fade away in the sea (Part I)

The global growth and the economic progress are inevitable, through Modernization and the following globalization. This one has allowed a global liberation of markets and people’s transit, but at the same time, it has reinforced the power system, by which second-class citizens have been created. Although the world seems to be advancing, wars persist, and new ones arise, as well as new levels of inequality and discrimination against individuals who migrate in search of a new life, far from poverty and armed conflicts. According to the Human Rights Council, “238 million people live outside there State of origin, of these 10% or about 25 million people, have fled their country as refugees and 40 million have been displaced within their countries” (2018). In this framework of fraternity and human rights, we observe how these people are separated from society, becoming mere “invasive” numbers, and as Zygmunt Bauman said, in “wasted lives” that culminate with tragic death or a reduction of their human rights (2003). Europe is in what they call, “migration crisis”, where citizens of countries in conflict (Syria, Afghanistan, Iran), human rights violations (Eritrea), and poverty (Maghreb and West African countries), seek asylum or an improvement of their quality of life, not only economically but also humanly.

The devastating “crisis of humanity” that is spreading throughout the European Union has turned the Mediterranean into a wet cemetery for those who embark themselves on poorly manufactured boats to make their way to the Spanish, Italian and Greek coasts. A sea that registers between 2017 and 2018 about 4,000 thousand dead (International Organization for Migration (IOM), 2018). As Giddens pointed (2007 p170 cited Conejero, P., 2012, p96):

“It will not be possible to curb all illegal immigration, but there is hope that it can be controlled. Border management is a way to do this. Although the stricter it is, the more likely it is that it will lead to tragic hardships or even death for those who try to enter a country illegally … What happens in North Africa and the Middle East, or in countries like Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus, will undeniably have medium and long-term consequences in terms of migratory pressures on the EU.”

In recent years, the Mediterranean countries have hardened their migration policies, reinforcing borders, and violating human rights, therefore, ignoring a humanitarian problem. Among them, Spain, who has been denounced by the European Human Rights Court (EHRC) several times due to the immediate returns of individuals through Frontex (European Border and Coast Guard Agency), and the conditions in which migrants live in Immigration Detention Centres (CIE in Spanish). In this context, the media have played and develop a significant role, because their influence on Spanish society, through their discourse, have created tensions regarding immigration. In Spain, the media are catalysts of racism and xenophobia towards migrants, reducing them to mere numbers and reflecting them as problems for the political, economic, and social stability of the country.

In the last four years, Spain has faced two episodes of human shame. The first one is The Tarajal case in 2014, where 15 migrants died trying to reach the Spanish shore due to the actions of the officers who attempted to dissuade immigrants by shooting rubber balls into the water and throwing smoke cans, causing the drowning of these people. The second one is the Aquarius crisis (2018), more related to the European migration crisis that has involved other countries like Italy, Malta, France, and Spain. Around 700 people were rescued during the night of Saturday 9 to Sunday 10 June 2018, by the ship Aquarius, where SOS Mediterranée and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) work together, the rescue took place for nine hours, under the instructions of the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination (IMRCC). However, later the Italian Government refused to accept their landing in their ports, due to the policy and ideology of the Italian Home Affairs Ministry, the far-right Matteo Salvini. Subsequently, other countries of the European Union refused or looked the other way in the face of one of the worst crises. Still, Spain decided the landing of the Aquarius, before the numerous critics of activists, political groups (left wing) and NGOs.

The rejection of the European society through different immigration policies and the media framing and discourse, are some of the major problems the migrants face. Specially the media’s function, as it influences human’s consciousness, and creates a social representation and distorted identity of individuals and groups of people (Entman, 1993) (Hall, 1997). Therefore, the media can help to create and/or reinforce hate, racism, and xenophobia, which ones perpetuate a violation of human rights.

Immigration in Spain is actual topic in the political and social sphere, also in media’s agenda (Montes, 2012). Hence, in this thesis we are going to analyse the discourse and frames of two main-national Spanish newspapers to observe and perceive their portrayal on migration flows. This work will be focused on two of the most remarkable events, regarding immigration which affected Spain, its public opinion, and its policies during the past four years: The Tarajal and the Aquarius. Through the critical discourse analysis (CDA) and the framing theory we will be able to determine if these newspapers contain a racial speech which can influence people’s perception on immigrants, thus creating an open door for the continuation of racial discrimination.

The migration of individuals is not an exclusive phenomenon of the 21st century, but, since the beginning of humanity and throughout history, the displacements of people have occurred constantly. Today, the migratory flow from poor or developing countries supposes a threat to the Western world, as the restriction of the free movement of people from the global south and the Middle East has become a main objective to be averted for the governments in Europe. As we will observe in the next chapter, the fight against the migrant from Africa, especially, is fought with various mechanisms and technologies as if it were a war (Carr, 2015).


European borders have established a relationship of class and race, by which, rather than delimiting merely physical spaces, define identities and social positions. Therefore, there is a distinction between “us” and “them”, which will be characterized by the inheritance of discriminatory forces such as “capitalism, racism and patriarchy” (Novak, 2017, p6). That said, border controls correspond to a method of social ordering, by which there is a social exclusion of the “bad” migrant, those from developing countries. The economic situation of these people, in relation to the West and the administrative difficulties in obtaining visas from Europe, creates a significant problem, leading the transit of these people through clandestine routes that in many cases end up in death. These new travellers have a new identity, they are categorized as illegal immigrants.

The motherland has been the subject of Western inhumanity, through which it was colonized by the European powers and subsequently divided among them in the Berlin Conference in 1884. These profited from the goods and raw materials, not without enslaving their people to build new empires like North America and to raise economies through their workforce as in the case of the United Kingdom or Spain. Imposing new traditions, languages, ​​and religions. After the independence of their countries during the 1950s and 1960s, the economic recession forced the mobility of millions of Africans in search of prosperity and well-being, but the European unconsciousness is summed up in fortifying its borders to prevent the mobility of Africans towards the prosper continent.

African migrants face an immense mountain for the difficulties of traveling to Europe. The obtaining of visas is meticulous, and its costs are exorbitant, in comparison with other applicants. The problem goes further as the organization SOS Racismo is specified in its 2006 report:

“Africa is the only continent in which most of its inhabitants from all states, have the obligation to have a visa to travel to any country in the European Union. To enter the Spanish state, a visa is required from people from 134 states and territories, including all of Africa, 54 states. In the 43 states of Sub-Saharan Africa, there is only Spanish diplomatic representation, in the form of an Embassy, ​​in 16 (Angola, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, DR Congo, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe). In contrast, only 12 states in sub-Saharan Africa have diplomatic representation in the form of an Embassy in Spain. With such a map, and even if new embassies are set in motion (the Africa Plan envisages opening in Mali and Cape Verde), it is not difficult to understand that it is physically impossible or extremely difficult to manage and obtain a visa to travel legally to Europe” (p112).

These difficulties together with weak economies, inefficient administrations and policies, and social conflicts in the countries themselves, make necessary the search for other routes of escape that are less “complicated” but which in turn can end the lives of these people. Well, these limitations place the Mediterranean as a path to freedom, and to achieve this they embark on low quality cayucos (small wood canoes) and rafts, without space for food or water. Moreover, turning them into modern slave ships with its similarity in terms of the organization of the disposition of people in. A limited space for the number of people traveling in them.

Europe had established a sophisticated and institutionalized racism through their governance. The EU migration policies force these people to use dangerous paths to reach Europe (because obtention of visas is arduous), therefore the fact that they travel in these boats not only full of people but overcrowded with no space for resources for consumption, looks like slave ships where the coloniser countries stuck hundreds of Africans like livestock. However, in the slavery era, racism was visible, and it was shown naturally. Nowadays, in the era of migrations and convergence between cultures and societies, western governments use political approaches with fundamental racism to keep their cultural hegemony and rising their latent Chauvinism in their societies.

© The Italian Coastguard/Massimo Sestini

The Cases of the Tarajal and the aquarius

According to the Missing Migrants project of the IOM, from 2014 to January 2019, a total of 18,950 migrants have died and/or disappeared during their goal of reaching the doors of Europe. This amount is a mere symbolic number, since not all deaths and disappearances have been recorded, therefore this number is probably higher. Even so, the deaths continue to rise, creating a migratory genocide led by the countries of the EU produced by their dehumanizing policies.

Among these, almost 19,000 immigrants, there were 15 people who were killed by the Spanish National Police (Guardia Civil) in 2014 at El Tarajal beach, located in the municipality of Ceuta.

On February 6, 2014, 15 immigrants drowned while they were trying to swim across the border dike that separates Spain from Morocco (El Tarajal). Because of these deaths, the operation of the border guards of the Guardia Civil has been subject to controversy, even though the Government of Spain, then chaired by Mariano Rajoy (PP), the Minister of the Interior, Jorge Fernández Díaz, and the General Director of the Civil Guard, Arsenio Fernández de Mesa, supported the intervention of the agents. While these people were in the water, the agents tried to prevent them from reaching the mainland by using excessive force and riot gear, such as rubber balls, detonating salvos, and smoke boats (CEAR, 2019) (DESC Observatory, 2016).

For one week, Fernández de Mesa and Fernández Diaz defended the agents’ actions, and this was reported in the Spanish media without questioning or demanding any responsibility. In fact, the coverage was focused on the defence of the police as they were doing “their job”, instead of demanding accountability for the deaths. Even though, they possessed videos from witnesses and the surveillance cameras of the Guardia Civil, located in the vicinity of the border crossing. The images show how agents shoot riot gear to people swimming not causing any harm or threat to the police. This episode is one of the most relevant in the history of Spain in the context of immigration due to the dead of immigrants because of the actions of the Spanish Civil Guard.

On the other hand, in 2018 June 9th and 10th the ship called “Aquarius” was waiting with more than 600 people rescued to be designated a European port so migrants could touch land.

For more than a week, the Aquarius was shipwrecked in the Mediterranean before the refusal of countries like Italy, Malta or the indifference of France and Greece. The Aquarius is a ship converted by the NGO SOS Méditerranée, with the purpose of rescuing migrants that try to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe.  

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini refused to open the ports to Aquarius, after two days of uncertainty, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (PSOE) announced in a statement that he had given instructions for Spain to comply with the international commitments in the field of humanitarian crises, and therefore, will host the “Aquarius” ship in a Spanish port. The ship finally disembarked in Spain, a week after it requested Italy for permission.

However, with the growth of neo-Nazi parties in Europe, and new policies on borders and immigration, the retrieved were left to their fate. This event placed the humanitarian crisis on immigration and the treatment of refugees at the centre of international and social attention and furthermore it is resurrecting a sleeping giant: the “we” and the “others”, the war on immigration.

Guillem Sartorio—AFP/Getty Images

The west forced [im]migration

The previous events represented a challenge for Spain, in terms of its position as the gateway to Europe and its strong repression of immigrants. Even so, the treatment of both events was different. The first tried to minimize the deaths of immigrants, blaming them for their own passing, hence trying to exculpate the police performance. On the other hand, the praising of the humanitarian side of Spain, since the “Aquarius” event is situated in a different political context, as it involves different European countries that showed a refusal to disembark the Aquarius.

Globalization is an inevitable phenomenon in human history that has brought the world closer through the exchange of goods and products, information, knowledge, and culture.

In the last decades, this global integration has picked up speed dramatically due to the unprecedented advances in technology, communications, science, transport, and industry, where the mobility of people is inevitable. While globalization is both a catalyst and a consequence of human progress, it is also a chaotic process that requires adjustments and poses important challenges and problems. Despite the liberalization of markets, capital and products, a significant percentage of people from the global South have restricted free mobility. Once again, we find a hegemonic process of the North (Gutall, 2007). Globalization has allowed the continuation of Western imperialism in developing countries.

The decolonization of Africa during the 50s to the 70s brought with it the artificial freedom of a continent rich in raw materials. The liberalization of their countries produced important “ethnic and religious conflicts due to the unnatural borders traced arbitrarily by the colonial powers in the 19th century” (Hussein and Fahram, 2014). In addition, the postcolonial effects created an economic and political instability that helped the growth of political corruption and the emergence of authoritarian governments.

The African economy paid the price of the liberation of the European rule, causing an increase in poverty and in turn, establishing an economic dependence with the EU and the US, through aid, credits (SAPs) and, the acceptance of economic neoliberalism. The author Beate Jahn wrote in his article how imperialism has been the “core of liberal thought in international relations” (2005, p1). Therefore, international institutions such as The World Bank, IMF, WTO, UN, OECD, and World Economic Forum implement an imperialism through their liberal policies and / or aid in developing countries with the purpose of changing their culture, economy and political system, creating a “market subjugation, transfer pricing, profits repatriation and asymmetrical economic partnership agreements […]” (Zack-Williams, 2013, p179). Through the Structural Adjustments Programs (SAPs) where The World Bank and the IMF promote a false aid for the economic recovery of the developing countries:

“SAPs did not, however, deliver the promised economic growth, export revenues, and freedom from debt and poverty. Instead, they led to economic stagnation and increased unemployment, poverty, economic vulnerability, and environmental destruction. They increased the economic vulnerability of the economies by exposing them to externally triggered economic and financial shocks and making them dependent on export markets over which they had no control. Borrowing countries became more indebted than before and fell into debt traps whereby they used new loans to repay existing debts. Numerous studies of SAPs reveal that they both created policy-induced poverty and have been pre-existing structures of social, economic, and political inequality.” (Gutall, 2007, pp.527-526).

Therefore, it can be established that the economic recession produced by the decolonization of Africa and the consequent indebtedness of their countries caused by the neoliberal imperialism of the West, have forced the mobility of Africans towards Europe. Specifically, migrants from the Western Sahara (formerly Spanish colony, known as Spanish Sahara) and neighbouring countries (Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco), to Spain, also surrounding countries like Senegal, Mali, Guinea, Guinea- Bissau and Gambia. Moreover, these economic and political programs carried through SAPs has driven African migrants to risk their lives in the Mediterranean Sea and Sahara Dessert:

“Hannah Cross has reminded us of the fate of thousands of would-be African migrants who aim for household survival by working in southern Europe, risking their lives at sea or on the equally arduous route through the Sahara to North African ports. She recalls the destructive effects of SAPs on the Senegalese governing classes, driving them to ‘abandon their ambition for development’, with the result that the youth of that country fossilised in the informal sector were impelled ‘increasingly to head abroad’. By atrophying development in Senegal, SAPS destabilised the pre-existing migration strategies upon which communities were already dependent, only to be confronted by ‘Fortress Europe’ beyond the Mediterranean Sea. Cross can show how emigration was triggered by the crisis in the local fishing industry caused by agreements signed between European fishing companies and the Senegalese government, which meant that fishing was no longer profitable for artisans. She identifies the crisis in pelagic resources as the product of an asymmetrical agreement with the EU and the rising cost of SAPs as a result of devaluation. These effects impelled migration, as families sold their possessions to fund the perilous voyage to Europe, where these workers (as illegal immigrants) are remunerated well below the minimum wage, leaving the sending communities to struggle to eke a living” (Zack-Williams, 2013, pp.181-182).

The intervention of these international institutions in sub-Saharan Africa has produced an economic stagnation that allows poverty and, in turn, the mobility of its individuals towards a more prosperous life in the global North.

The implementation of SAPs is the mere establishment of a neoliberal ideology economy, for which the IMF and the Word Bank have tried to “end” poverty in the global South. Through a “mental model” by which these institutions have a perception of how the world works and all measures for economic growth must work in any country. Unfortunately, they ignore historical, political, economic, social, and cultural differences and their colonial past (Shah, 2013) (Roy, 2019). Trying to implement measures from developed countries in those that do not yet have economic, political and social stability.

The adopted policies require a minimization of the role of the state, forcing the privatization of national industries, thus allowing the entry of foreign investors, facilitating that the resources go to foreign corporations. The liberation of the economy and the free market has forced the African countries to base their economy on the export of raw products, which reduces the benefit by not being able to add value to produce a final product. The focus on the export of these materials has provoked a price war between the countries themselves, where the overproduction of goods only benefits the West, since the devaluation of prices reduces the benefits to the economies of these countries (Shah, 2013).

This problem has forced countries to focus on a single cash crop as is the case of Cocoa in Ghana (Appiah-Kubi, 2001). These reforms are programmed to return the acquired debt, provoking an austerity on the part of the governments, through the increase of taxes (Easterly, 2003) and the reduction of social programs (education and health), which in the long term will reduce the economic growth.

Despite the natural and unstoppable mobility of the human being. The west has been a determining factor that has favoured the [im]migration of Africans. In the first instance, due to the economic stagnation and the creation of ethnic and social inequalities produced by the decolonization of Africa. Consequently, the creation of an unpayable economic debt, caused by the economic and social instability of the countries after independence. Finally, the neoliberal and neo-imperialist measures provided by the IFM and the World Bank with the pretext of “ending” poverty, with the sole purpose of having free access to raw products and labour at low cost. Thus, enriching developed countries at the expense of the impoverishment of African society.

Spain is seen as the gateway to Europe because of its location and proximity to the African continent, so it is to be understood that a large part of the migrants decide to use Spain as a way to other European cities. The peculiarity of Spain will be discussed in the next chapter focusing on its immigration policies. Even so, we will highlight that Spain was known as an emigrant country due to various socio-political problems such as the Civil War (1936-1939) causing a rural exodus. A recession of the economy produced by the war and the international isolation of the country by the Allies of World War II due to the Dictatorship of Francisco Franco, akin to Mussolini and Hitler. Finally, the oil crisis in 1973 affected an industrialized Spain, reducing its economic activity.

These problems, summarized in a high emigration and a reduction in economic activity, meant that Spain did not oppose the entry of migrants, but that they were seen as engines for the lifting of the economy.

All these incidents created a fertile soil in Spain for the mobility of African migrants, in search of work and a prosperous life. On the contrary, the Spanish companies and government benefited from a cheap labour force, at the same time as the objective was the recovery of the economy through these new workers. However, the entrance of Spain in the European Union changed the at that moment non-existent policies about migration and made immigration an issue for the public agenda and the mass media.

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