Spanish leftist parties, including the governing Socialist Party (PSOE), are taking legal action against the far-right Vox for what they describe as an attack on migrant minors on a campaign billboard ahead of a regional election in Madrid on May 4.
The message on the Vox billboard uses the term mena, the Spanish acronym for an unaccompanied foreign migrant minor, which is often employed to negatively portray children and teenagers who have arrived in Spain without their families.
The sign reads “€4,700 a month for a mena. €426 a month for your grandmother’s pension,” and features the images of an elderly woman and a young man wearing a bandana over his face. “Protect Madrid” is written in smaller print at the bottom.
Equality Minister Irene Montero and Social Affairs Minister Ione Belarra, both from the leftist Unidas Podemos – which is the PSOE’s junior partner in government – have announced they are filing a complaint with the public prosecution service over potential hate crimes, as is Podemos secretary general Pablo Iglesias, who is a candidate in the upcoming election. The PSOE has also reported the case to a judge. Both parties have asked election oversight authorities to have the sign taken down. The leftist Más País and the Catalan Republican Party (ERC) also expressed criticism of Vox’s campaign message in parliament on Wednesday.
At a highly charged debate in the Congress of Deputies, Vox spokesperson Iván Espinosa de los Monteros said that there is no money for a lot of things in Spain due to the bad economic situation, yet there is enough “to maintain menas and illegal immigrants across Spain.” Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo replied that “what you’ve done with those signs, pointing at boys and girls, at minors who come to our country, sometimes fleeing terrible situations, without families, having been victims of very serious crimes during their journeys – that’s called inhumanity, hatred.”
Some regional authorities also note that Vox’s message twists the facts. “There is no office that gives minors arriving without a guardian €4,700 to spend on whatever they want,” said a source at the Madrid Department of Social Policy and Family Affairs, which is in charge of seeing to the needs of minors requiring protection, regardless of their nationality or social background. Figures provided by this department show that, to March 31, there were 3,709 minors under the guardianship of the Madrid regional government. Of these, 2,637 were Spanish nationals and the rest from other countries. Out of this latter group, 269 arrived in Spain without an accompanying adult, representing 7.2% of the total.
According to this department’s data, €96.1 million was budgeted in 2020 to offer 1,903 spots at centers for minors, which comes out to an average of €4,208 per spot. The same source noted that this money covers everything from the salary of staff at the center to food and clothing for the minors, and that “some centers are more costly while others are less so.”
The billboard was put up on Wednesday in the busy Madrid train station of Puerta del Sol, where tourists, locals, families and thousands of workers pass through every day. It is part of Vox’s aggressive campaign to win over voters ahead of the Madrid election on May 4.
As was intended by Vox, images of the sign went viral on Twitter on Tuesday. But many of the comments were negative. Madrid Metro, which operates at the Puerto del Sol station, along with the commuter line Cercanías, received hundreds of messages criticizing the billboard. A Twitter user called Javier Díaz asked: “How can Madrid Metro allow this?” while others wrote ”Can Metro explain how this is possible?” and “This ad turns us into accomplices.”
The official Twitter account of Madrid Metro replied to nearly all messages with the same short response: “Hello. This billboard is not inside our facilities. Good day.” A spokesperson from the underground rail system confirmed by telephone that the sign was located in the area run by Cercanías, which is managed by the Public Works Ministry. A spokesperson from Spain’s national rail service Renfe explained that the job of managing the advertising space in the rail network was outsourced to the Madrid-based company Exterior Plus S.L. five years ago. “Renfe does not assess content. This content has to be assessed by the electoral board or the association that regulates industry advertisements,” the spokesperson said.
According to sources from Renfe, since 2015, all political parties have used the advertising space in Cercanías stations in Madrid. Renfe confirmed that it will remove the billboard if the message is found to constitute a hate crime by the relevant authority.
Unaccompanied foreign minors
According to the most recent official figures, more than 1,570 foreign-born children and teenagers arrived in Madrid in 2020, or around 130 a month. The United Nations children’s agency UNICEF stated in 2019 that the vast majority of migrant minors under the guardianship of Spain have not committed any crime. “Claiming they are criminals violates the right to non-discrimination and the presumption of innocence protected under article 40 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child,” the agency wrote in a letter shared on Twitter.
Vox leaders, however, have often portrayed migrant minors as criminals in a bid to support their hardline stance on immigration. “We have to act in the streets taken by illegal immigration,” said Javier Ortega Smith, the secretary general of Vox, while the far-right group’s candidate in Madrid, Rocío Monasterio, has complained in several interviews that “women can no longer walk alone” on the streets. In response to the hate-crime investigation, Vox has launched a campaign to make the billboard go even more viral on social media. “The left wants to censor the posters Vox has up in the Madrid Metro station. They can’t handle Madrileños finding out the truth!” the group wrote in a message shared on the instant messaging service Telegram.
At the last regional election in Madrid in 2019, the Socialist Party (PSOE) won the highest number of votes in the streets where the region’s two centers for unaccompanied migrant minors are located. The party took 28% of the vote, followed by the conservative Popular Party (PP), with 22%, and Vox, with 17%. The region is currently governed by Isabel Díaz-Ayuso of the PP, who called an early election following a political dispute between her party and Ciudadanos.
With additional reporting by Patricia R. Blanco.