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Is immigration to blame for the rise of the populist Vox Party in Andalusia?

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Name of the Spanish right-wing party VOX sprayed in Barcelona on Dec 12.
Name of the Spanish right-wing party VOX sprayed in Barcelona on Dec 12. -
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The far-right Vox party stunned the Spanish political establishment earlier this month by gaining 12 seats in Andalusia's regional government — a first since Franco's dictatorship.

Now pollsters believe that the anti-immigration party could also clinch seats in the national parliament if elections were held today.

Euronews' correspondent Ana Lazaro visited Andalusia to find out more.

Anti-immigration sentiment on the rise?

Debates about immigration have been hotting up in Spain this year as the country became the Mediterranean's most sought-after destination for irregular migrants travelling by sea, surpassing Italy and Greece.

According to the UN's International Organisation for Migration, more than 40,000 migrants arrived in Spain between January and the end of September, more than the arrivals registered in 2015, 2016 and 2017 combined.

Political parties have quibbled over the best way to handle the issue with the opposition People's Party (PP) — who were ousted from power on June 1 after a vote of no confidence toppled their former leader Mariano Rajoy — accusing the new government of creating a "pull factor" when it allowed the Aquarius rescue ship to dock in Valencia this summer.

Yet, according to a Pew Research Centre survey, Spaniards remain the most supportive of refugees in the European Union, with 86% of adults favouring taking in people fleeing violence and war.

In the coastal city of El Ejido, in Andalusia's Almeria province, 29% of voters backed Vox in the December 2 regional election.

Like in the rest of the autonomous region, agriculture is an important sector for the local economy and nearly a third of the area's 90,000 inhabitants are immigrants, primarily working the fields.

For Spitou Mendi from the Field Worker Union, the vote showed that "there's a total hypocrisy because if suddenly migrants return to their countries, they will have to look for other workers."

"This field needs labour as we need it now, low-skilled labour, in order to make a profit," he added.

Lola Losada, owner of the El Sevillano bar, told Euronews that "there are times when co-existence is difficult."

The town's PP mayor Francisco Gongora conceded that immigration has put a strain on public services.

"We have limited capacity and at the moment it's true that we're having some problems," he told Euronews.

"It's necessary to work much more on immigration. We did not take it seriously enough," he added.

Traditional politics to blame?

Some commentators have suggested that the rise of the populist party — which many thought the country immune to — can also be explained by the Catalan independentist movement with voters flocking to Vox because it promises to centralise power and thus assuage fears of division.

Another factor would be that like the rest of the EU, more and more voters, dissatisfied with traditional parties, are seeking alternatives to make their voices heard.

Manolo Lopez from El Ejido told Euronews he cast his ballot for Vox.

"We feel disappointed, abandoned by the regional government," he explained.

"They've been in command for 36 years and they only remember us in Almeria when elections arrive," he added.