The Christian Science Monitor : 2019-02-11

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heart of the news JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA, SPAIN For some migrants in Spain, hope springs from a soccer field set the paperwork first. And in my opinion, the welcoming system in Spain treats them like children, instead of preparing them to become autonomous citizens.” Benítez says some players have started focusing on getting paid to play, which, he says, isn’t possible because the team struggles to raise money to register the players, and for other costs associated with a professional team. “They have unrealistic expectations because of [top] players like [Lionel] Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. I would like them to understand that I invest a lot of my time and my own money to give them an opportunity to play soccer and to feel they’re like everyone else in Jerez,” Benítez says. By Catarina Fernandes Martins the summer, the social-democratic prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, adopted a liberal policy on immigration. A Pew Research Center survey published in September found Spain to be the European country most supportive of refugees, with 86 percent of Spaniards in favor of taking in people fleeing violence and war. But in Andalusia, there’s growing frustration with the lack of a clear plan on how to accommodate them. In December, the anti-immigrant party Vox won 12 seats in the Andalusian parliament, the first time a far-right party made it into public office since Spain became a democracy in 1978. In January, they joined a governing coalition after some of their more extreme demands were dropped, including the expulsion of 52,000 migrants. Correspondent While watching the 1998 World Cup on TV, Issa Abdou took his geography book and started planning to leave Cameroon. At the age of 8, Issa’s goal was to go to Spain and play in the best soccer league in the world. Two years later, this son of nomadic shepherds said goodbye to his parents and headed north. He says he lived in Nigeria, Niger, and Algeria, saving money to reach Morocco. At each leg of the journey, he colored the maps in his geography book. In 2007 he climbed the 20-foot fence in Melilla, a Spanish enclave in northern Morocco, and waited until help came. “It wasn’t Madrid or Barcelona, but when I saw the Spanish flag in Melilla, I was okay – I had made it to Spain,” Mr. Abdou says, his eyes displaying a nostalgic glimmer, a reminiscence of how hopeful he felt that day. Fast forward almost 12 years, and his dream of becoming a professional soccer player in Spain came true, although nothing happened exactly as he had planned. Pressure for a government plan Alma de África’s players say Spaniards are “affectionate” and “welcoming,” but they express frustration with the region’s high unemployment; the city of Jerez registered 32 percent in June 2018, the fifth highest rate in Spain. Migrant shelters in Jerez and other towns are increasingly overcrowded, leaving some to wander the streets. “We’re going through a delicate moment The discipline of a game Four years ago, Quinn Rodriguez noticed an unruly and aggressive game being played on a field here in Jerez de la Frontera, a city in southern Spain. He and his friend and former soccer player Alejandro Benítez returned with the idea of a match between the group – which they had named Alma de África – and a local professional team. The event was a success: Instead of charging for attendance, the newly formed team raised 200 pounds of donated food and started thinking about taking itself seriously. Mr. Benítez and Mr. Rodriguez learned that adding Spanish players facilitated the process of registering Alma de África with the Royal Spanish Football Federation. They didn’t hesitate, thinking that it would also be positive for the integration of the immigrant players. Alma de África includes players from 15 different countries – some from Africa and Latin America – and has attracted sponsors and media attention. The team reached the second division of Andalusia’s regional soccer league, before climbing down to the third division last year. But in an echo of the broader challenges Spain faces in integrating thousands of immigrants, the members of the team are showing some signs of fatigue. “Upon arriving to Europe, most migrants are convinced life will become suddenly very easy,... that Europe is a sort of Disneyland where money ... grows on trees,” says Benítez, the current volunteer president of Alma de África. “They grow disappointed with the difficulty of finding a job or with the need to ‘IT’S NOT ENOUGH TO GIVE MIGRANTS SHELTER AND FOOD. WE NEED A REAL PLAN TO INTEGRATE THEM, ONE THAT MAKES SURE MIGRANTS ARE ... [PREPARED] TO FIND JOBS AND LEAD AUTONOMOUS LIVES IN SPAIN.’ – Michel Bustillo Garat, social worker Never having found a steady job in Spain and currently without work, Abdou is scraping by. But he is the captain of Alma de África (Soul of Africa), a team of immigrants and Spaniards that plays in the third division of Andalusia’s regional soccer league. For four years, the soccer initiative has been helping migrants integrate into southern Spain, with its large influx of migrants and high levels of joblessness. The coach and players provide a support network and the imprimatur of belonging to a real team. “If I knew this was how it was going to be, I would have stayed in Cameroon.... I play with Alma de África – it takes my mind off my problems. Alma de África is my family now,” Abdou says. Even as Spain last year became a top destination for migrants – with more than 57,000 having arrived in 2018 – Spanish society has largely avoided the xenophobic tensions felt elsewhere in Europe. Since taking office in Issa Abdou (with ball), a Cameroonian immigrant who arrived in Spain with hopes of becoming a professional soccer player, plays with Alma de África, a team made up of immigrants that’s based in the Spanish city of Jerez de la Frontera. CHASING DREAMS: 14 THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR WEEKLY FEBRUARY 11, 2019 | PRINTED AND DISTRIBUTED BY PRESSREADER PressReader.com +1 604 278 4604 ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY COPYRIGHT AND PROTECTED BY APPLICABLE LAW

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