MADRID (Reuters) – A minors’ reception centre in Madrid became the focus for clashing views on immigration and social welfare on Thursday, after police defused a grenade found there a day earlier.
The row around the centre, in the suburb of Hortaleza, crystallises worries over immigration and insecurity which helped the far-right Vox party double its result in last month’s election to become the third-biggest bloc in parliament.
Vox repeatedly singled out the centre during the campaign, with party leader Santiago Abascal denouncing “criminal foreign youngsters”. Last month an extreme right-wing group called Hogar Social staged a protest at the gates, demanding the centre’s closure to restore “security”.
Police have made no arrests and some officials say gang violence may also have been behind the incident – with the device likely thrown over the walls in a bag, according to Tedax, the Spanish police bomb squad. The grenade contained a minimal explosive charge, and no one was hurt.
But government spokeswoman Isabel Celaa said the inflammatory rhetoric from Vox, which staged a visit to the area by party spokeswoman Rocio Monasterio during the campaign, had created a dangerous climate.
“Words are ultimately internalised and intoxicate our consciences,” she told reporters. “We don’t like these words, we believe they incite certain behaviours from citizens which are not desirable in a country which desires social cohesion and peace for all.”
With Spain’s Socialist party still struggling to form a government after the election and separatist riots in Catalonia fresh in collective memory, Wednesday’s incident has added to a volatile political climate in Spain.
The centre houses around 90 youngsters, most from North Africa, as well as some Spaniards. Several residents appeared wary, although according to city authorities, Hortaleza has some of the lowest crime rates in Madrid.
“I don’t feel safe passing by the centre’s gates alone,” said 34-year-old receptionist Elizabeth Lopez-Vega, who said a young man she was told lived in the centre had tried to steal her mobile phone last week.
“They need more social educators,” she said. “Nobody is integrating them into society and nobody is teaching them a thing.”
Social workers say the centre is run down although it no longer suffers from the severe overcrowding it faced earlier this year, when minors were forced to sleep on the floor.
But they feel “singled out, like a cross has been painted on our door,” said one social worker, who asked to remain anonymous. “We’re tired, afraid, and fed up.”
(Additional reporting by Belen Carreño; Editing by James Mackenzie and Giles Elgood)