Manlleu presents the calm image of a municipality of its size in the Osona region (Barcelona), where different groups of foreigners coexist with the local population without major problems: women in hijab and miniskirts cross paths in the streets and greet each other, halal butcher shops open door to door with supermarkets with Romanian products and with booths run by Hispanic Americans; Ghanaians sit on a bench in a square on whose corner, Moroccans drink coffee in a bar, and children of different origins play happily in the street, while communicating naturally in Catalan and Arabic.
It is the image of an intercultural paradise that, however, fell apart last Sunday, when a massive fight between Moroccans and Dominicans brought to the fore an underlying reality: the problems of coexistence that Manlleu has dragged on for more than 20 years, and which in recent months have intensified with a new wave of crime.
Manlleu has a immigrant concentration of 23.88% over its total population. This means that, of 20,804 inhabitants, 4,967 are of foreign nationality. The municipality was first populated by internal migration from other parts of Spain in search of opportunities. Beginning in the 1990s, Moroccans arrived, attracted by the possibilities offered by the powerful meat industry implanted in the region. In Manlleu alone, two important national companies in the sector have their headquarters, such as La Piara and Casa Tarradellas. There are dozens of small and medium-sized slaughterhouses and processing plants. In recent years, Ghanaians, more Moroccans, and also Dominicans, Venezuelans and other Hispanic American communities have arrived.
— Municipal Guards of Catalonia (@GMCatalunya) May 15, 2022
The epicenter of the migratory phenomenon of Manlleu is the erm neighborhood, an area with working-class residential buildings and commercial establishments labeled in a wide variety of languages. It was there, in the Chinese restaurant Li, where the massive confrontation whose images went around Spain originated. Rosa Moreno, the waitress who worked in the room that Sunday, tells the following to this newspaper:
“A Moroccan entered who usually comes to play the machine asking for change in a somewhat aggressive way. A Dominican who was sitting at one of the tables caught his attention and told him to leave. Then they started insulting each other. ‘Shitty Latino,’ the Moroccan told him. The other answered, they began to push each other and ended up in the street. They took the bottles from the bar, broke them, and threatened each other with them.”
Already in the street, acquaintances of one and the other joined the brawl, reaching a dozen involved. The action of the Local Police, however, prevented the crash from turning into a tragedy. Sergeant Moixé Gimeno explains to EL ESPAÑOL that it is an isolated and fortuitous event: “They are not people who belong to gangs. What happened is like any fight that can break out at the exit of a football stadium, but the dissemination of the images increases the perception of insecurity.”
Like the ‘banlieues’
Although the fight was a fortuitous event, it has focused on a municipality and a neighborhood with a conflict to which the police refer as follows: “We are not in an easy place where nothing happens. Manlleu is a complex place where different cultures coincide that have in common that they occupy the public thoroughfare and what is perceived are situations of insecurity and incivility”.
For his part, the mayor of Manlleu from ERC, Àlex Garrido, thus referred to the problem that the population was going through in November 2021, in a statement to TV3: “We are at the gates of a situation very similar to the one experienced in France in 2005 with the revolt of the ‘banlieues’. We have to combat school failure and provide job placement alternatives for young people”.
Garrido spoke, specifically, of a crime wave caused by unaccompanied foreign minors who, along with other young Roma, have been involved in countless robberies and fights in recent months. A neighbor present at the Li Chinese restaurant tells EL ESPAÑOL that just a month ago there was “two tanganas between groups of about fifteen Moroccans”. “The problems are mainly between them,” adds the resident, who did not want to give his name.
Moreno, the waitress at the bar, also recounts that a friend of hers was robbed at home, and has even seen them rip out the boxes of a BonÀrea supermarket in the same neighborhood. Her own water meter was stolen a few weeks ago. Without going any further, on May 12, the Mossos d’Esquadra arrested other boys who were walking with a television through one of the streets of the Erm in broad daylight, after forcibly stealing it from a home. Cases like these are a common trend that has the neighbors frightened.
“There is no center for minors here, but the boys come anyway. They have nowhere to stay and occupy houses, rob apartments and shops and spend the day on the street”, explains Moreno, who is also responsible for the Karaama association. Through this NGO, he is in contact with the most vulnerable groups in town and knows the problem first-hand: “Many immigrants come here because the flats are cheaper than in Barcelona or Girona and there are jobs like those in slaughterhouses that many locals they don’t want to do. The problem is when whole families come without papers and minors who have nothing to do or where to go”, laments the waitress, who asks that measures be taken in this regard.
Most crimes and cases of incivility are concentrated in the neighborhood where the main populations of foreigners live. This is shown by a heat map prepared by the Municipal Police and to which EL ESPAÑOL has had access, which locates most of the incidences in the Erm. Sergeant Gimeno, however, emphasizes that perception is much greater than the reality shown by the data.
“In 2020 we had a rate of 37.3 crimes per 1,000 inhabitants, something that is below the average in the group of municipalities with a number of residents similar to ours. We also solved 33.9% of crimes, when the average in the same group is 31.4%. Those arrested per 1,000 inhabitants, in Manlleu were 4.1%, while in the group of municipalities it was 3.1%; crimes reported for drugs or weapons were 8.1%, when in the rest of the towns it was 4.7%…”, explains Gimeno.
With this, the sergeant wants to focus on the fact that the work of the quarantine of Local Police officers is constant and they achieve control insecurity in a place where all the characteristics are given for the opposite to happen. “We are developing a citizen security app, we are going to install cameras in the roundabout where the fight took place, which is the point with the most crimes in all of Manlleu and we are putting all the means to surround this multi-repeat offender group that is the protagonist of the majority episodes of violence in the village. We have already made some extraditions and we are willing to apply all possible severity to guarantee coexistence, ”adds the police officer.
Together with the police action, the different Manlleu government teams have tried to reverse the coexistence problem with different measures in recent years. Already in 2006 a first plan was presented that is renewed cyclically. The last one was launched in 2019 and plans to reach all of its objectives in 2023.
This has not prevented the Erm de Manlleu from becoming an object of study by university students and experts in matters of multiculturalism. Neighbors like Miquel Casanovas, president of the Erm residents’ association, are tired of participating in media interviews and scientific studies that, according to him, they use their neighborhood as a “laboratory” or as an example of situations that he defines as “exceptional”.
“We have been working for years on different lines to make it possible for Manlleu to be a place where you can live normally and with the integration of the different communities that make up its population. Some are more successful, others less”, assures the neighbor, who declined to participate in a more in-depth interview.
The reality of Manlleu has also been the perfect breeding ground for the rise of identity positions that emerged strongly in the early 2000s with the xenophobic party Platform for Catalonia. The old formation led by Joseph Anglada was born in Vic, the capital of Osona, as a response to the growing immigrant and, above all, Muslim population, who settled in the area. Throughout the region and in other towns in the province of Girona, the situation in Manlleu has been reproduced with more or less intensity depending on the moment.
Currently, in Manlleu, only one councilor picks up the witness of the political proposal of Anglada. This is Francisco Zambrana, who now acts as alderman without being linked to any list. Zambrana is a resident of Erm and worked for 40 years as a municipal police officer. In the last elections he received more than half a thousand votes and has been involved in some episode of tension in the past.
“It is not a reality that we are going to deny. There is a lot of crime here, but there is also a lot of racism. What politicians have to do is implement real programs to get kids off the streets. Immigration is a reality that is not going to go away and we have to learn to live with it,” says Moreno.
The majority of generations of migrant workers in Manlleu is how they take it: Francisco is a retiree from Jaén who came to the town 60 years ago, where he stayed after doing his military service in Vic. “Yes, it is true that before everything was calmer, but I have never had any problem with anyone”, he assures. Adams, a Ghanaian who lives in Barcelona and travels the journey of more than an hour to Manlleu every day to work in a slaughterhouse, expresses himself in the same vein: “Everything is calm here, I come, I work, and I leave. Friends who live here have had no problems either, ”she concludes.