This is a story about a young Nicaraguan who decides to head for Europe in search of a better life. He’d made a contact in Spain who promised him a job and made arrangements with a tour agency to get him into the country. He is one of many who make this kind of risky journey every year.
Let’s call him Jose. A bright, ambitious Nicaraguan in his twenties, from a poor family where he has ten brothers and sisters. He’s the star, their big hope. He had a good job, working in one of the ‘maquila’ factories: foreign-owned assembly plants set up in tax-free zones which employ local people to work ten-hour days, Saturdays included, for perhaps £25 per week. Jose was a supervisor, however, with more privileges, shorter hours and better pay. By local standards, he’d done well. He was bringing a small but regular income back into the extended family home where he still lived.
Until a week ago. This country is ‘broken’ he told me, before explaining his plan to become an illegal immigrant. He’d made a contact in Spain. He’d explained to this man that he’d trained as a laboratory assistant, and he wanted work in that field. The man had promised him a job which paid 1,800 euros per month. They’d made arrangements. Jose wasn’t the first to use this man’s services, many other Latinos were in Spain and earning this sort of money.
It would be simple. The man had contacts with a Nicaraguan tour agency. They would supply a return air ticket, because without that he wouldn’t get into Spain. As well as the ticket, they’d provide him with a tourist package. He’d have a hotel booking in Madrid, then a coach tour itinerary that would take him to Granada and several other cities. This would be enough to get him through passport control in Madrid and once he was outside they would meet him and he’d be taken to his lodgings and shown his place of work. Not to worry: dozens had done this before and none of them had problems.
Jose saved up and borrowed the $2,200 the agency charged him. He left today. The journey wasn’t to be quite as planned. For some reason the agency gave him tickets which mean that once he gets to Madrid he has to fly on to Barcelona, supposedly because there he will arouse fewer suspicions. Should his plans go wrong though, and he has to use the return ticket, he’ll somehow have to get to Madrid to make the flight back. The tour itinerary is now more meagre: three nights in Barcelona and a city bus tour. It looks rather less convincing, but Jose is hoping for the best.
As I write this, Jose must be sitting in San Jose airport in Costa Rica, where he has a ten hour wait for his connecting flight. He’s alone, but he’s far from the only Nicaraguan to have made this kind of risky journey. Nicaragua has a population of only six million, but at any one time ten per cent of them are not in the country. Most head, legally or illegally, to Costa Rica, where they can get farming or domestic jobs in an economy which has five times Nicaragua’s GDP per head. Many thousands head for the United States and the perilous border crossings from Mexico where, on one day last August, 72 Central Americans were gunned down because they refused to join forces with a local drugs cartel. Fewer go to Spain because of the cost of the flight and the danger of being turned back, but it has the advantage of a shared language, plenty of other Latinos already there, and a warranted reputation (Jose hopes) of being less dangerous. He knows little about the state of the Spanish economy, but whatever state it’s in, he’s confident it is stronger than Nicaragua’s.
Why would someone like Jose do what he’s doing? He lives reasonably well by local standards, he has a loving family and a decent job. In his case it’s ambition, or you could say greed, rather than necessity. But most migrants leave because they see no end to mind-numbing work in a low-paid job in a clothing factory owned by South Koreans or Taiwanese, producing shirts or jeans for the North American market. The women whom Jose supervises probably get up at four each morning to make the breakfast and get the kids ready before they leave for work. Many have long bike rides or bus journeys to the factories, which are often built on main roads far from towns. Even being a few minutes late will lead to pay being docked; a few infractions of the rigid regime will mean you lose your job. Meanwhile their husbands might have left home to look for casual work on farms or as coffee pickers. They’ll earn £2 on a good day.
So it’s not surprising that so many leave. If a farm worker can get across the border and get a job picking bananas in Costa Rica, he can get at least three times his previous pay, but the work is hard, conditions are bad and discrimination is rife. Jose’s flight to Spain looks a more attractive, even glamorous, option. Let’s see if it works out.
Original post and comments: Migration Pulse