Common Ground News Service: Spreading “anti-rumours” about immigrants

by , under European Union, María Paz López

By María-Paz López

Barcelona, Spain –“They are invading us”, “They don’t respect the rules”, “They don’t pay taxes”, “They don’t want to integrate”, “They get special subsidies to open businesses”, are just a few of the often repeated accusations against immigrant communities in Spain.

To deal with rising prejudices, Barcelona City Council is now beginning its second training season of volunteer citizens, nicknamed anti-rumour patrols, whose job it will be to counter rumours or stereotypes about immigrants.

The volunteers take free courses to acquire skills to tackle prejudice. For example, in everyday situations at work, in the neighbourhood, in the supermarket or at the gym, an anti-rumour agent who might overhear someone saying, “You know, Moroccan immigrants are collapsing the Health system, they are always queuing for a doctor, with their many kids …,” could step in and counter with fact. “You know, actually, according to the authorities, immigrants go to the doctor 50 per cent less than natives, and their healthcare costs are only 4.6 per cent of the total in Spain”.

According to 2012 census data, the largest national minority groups in Barcelona are Pakistanis (23,281 individuals), Italians (22,909), Chinese (15,875) and Ecuadorians (15,551), in a city with some 1,630,000 inhabitants.

The promoters of the programme, which began two years ago, could have opted for an ideological, philosophical or human rights’ approach. Instead, they have chosen a down-to-earth, factual one.

“It is more effective” says Miquel Esteve, Town Hall commissioner for Immigration and Intercultural Dialogue. “The programme strategy always uses accurate and objective information to deactivate false perceptions such as the belief that immigrants monopolise social aid, do not pay taxes, get subsidies to start businesses, collapse emergency rooms or abuse the health system.”

Using factual data and statistics, the anti-rumour agent seeks to invalidate the rumour right in front of the person who is disseminating it.

Last spring, 436 citizens received the free Town Hall trainings. A new course starting this month includes workshops that analyse how rumours, stereotypes and prejudice are created and divulged, and how they contribute to constructing an overwhelmingly negative opinion within the host community of what diversity means.

Citizens enrolled in the courses also learn to deal with their own prejudices, something that, as the trainers say, they never think they have.

Among the most frequently repeated rumours that affect the whole foreign population, the most dreadful one may be “They are invading us”. To fight it, anti-rumour agents respond: “It is actually the opposite. The foreign population in Barcelona remains very stable. Foreign residents as of 1 January 2012 totalled 282,178, or 17.4 per cent of residents, and that number in January 2011 was 278,320, 17.3 per cent of total residents. That is not fast growing”.

Another typical stereotype about immigrants – “They don’t respect the rules” – can be invalidated by saying, “You know, from 2006 to 2010, only 18 per cent of fines due to violations of the local Ordinance of Civility were for foreigners residing in Barcelona”.

Even if the economic crisis in Spain is causing municipalities to drastically cut budgets, not one Town Hall official in Barcelona – now led by a conservative nationalist mayor – has suggested cancelling this programme.

There is wide consensus of its importance for social cohesion in the city. “When we started…we discovered that false rumours about immigrants were something pretty widespread, that they harmed conviviality, and that it was something we definitely had to address”, explains Daniel de Torres, who was the Town Hall commissioner for Immigration and Intercultural Dialogue when the programme started.

Good “rumours” are spreading about its success in the region. Other municipalities in the Barcelona metropolitan area have shown an interest in establishing similar programmes, and they are getting the advice and materials to do so.

It’s a powerful way for civil society to become involved in improving respect for diversity in an urban context, and it’s an idea that can travel.

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* Barcelona-based author Maria-Paz Lopez is Senior Religion Writer at the Spanish daily La Vanguardia and chairs the steering committee of the International Association of Religion Journalists (IARJ). This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 04 December 2012, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

Read original blog entry here.

This piece was reprinted by Migrant Tales with permission.

  1. Mark

    While this is a very commendable project, the term “anti-rumour agent” is abhorrent. And this is supposed to be ‘down to earth’? I’d hate to see something truly ideological.

    An agent is a shadowy instrument of the state who performs nefarious activities. It sounds like the ‘thought-police’. It’s truly a disastrous title if they want to get ordinary citizens on board with this.

    The idea itself is great, that ordinary people would get off their arses and actually learn some facts about immigration so that they could contribute constructively to ‘public’ and ‘private’ debates. The lessons should be compulsory in the schools and supported by employers as part of their ‘social’ activities. Likewise, it would be responsible of the media to also cover these courses and given them national and local visibility, again as part of their normal ‘social’ activities. We all have an interest in promoting cohesion and honesty and fairness, as well as opposing racism and prejudice.

    But let’s not try to make this sound like a seedy exercise in state-sponsored propoganda, for God’s sake!

    • JusticeDemon

      This is not a new idea. Simple verbal and nonverbal counterexamples are a highly effective riposte to the pernicious generalisations of fascism.

      One such generalisation is the claim that immigrants cause unemployment. The highest unemployment rates in Finland are in regions with the fewest immigrants. Another fascist claim is that immigrants are workshy. It follows that Finnish officials must be unfit for office, as decisions to reduce benefits on grounds of refusing work or training are unheard of. The view that “they breed like flies” is more evidently true of Lestaedians than any immigrant group, with official statistics indicating that the birth rate in immigrant communities is primarily driven by economic considerations and tends towards the national average within 2-3 generations.

      Once these counterexamples are in the public domain, it’s only the exceptionally thick and uneducated who persist in repeating the fascist mythology.

    • Mark

      JD

      Once these counterexamples are in the public domain, it’s only the exceptionally thick and uneducated who persist in repeating the fascist mythology.

      Why does that sound like a cue for certain individuals known to us here to join the conversation? 🙂

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