Lavapies is one of the areas with a high concentration of immigrants.

By Al-Amin Andalusi, IOL Correspondent

MADRID, June 1, 2005 (IslamOnline.net) – Home to thousands of immigrants from different nationalities, the Madrid district of Lavapies is a melting pot of people from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

Located in the heart of the Spanish capital, the district, nicknamed by Spaniards the Republic of Lavapies, houses around 100,000 immigrants, mostly Moroccans.

There are also many Egyptians, Iraqis, Syrians, Turks, Albanians, Pakistanis and Indians residing in the area.

The presence of immigrants has lead to an inevitable variety of shops and restaurants – this is a good place for good and cheap restaurants of local and international food.

Such a cultural diversity is quite self-evident in the district where one can see a store selling halal foods next to a liquor shop.

Traditionally one of the poorer neighborhoods near the city center, Lavapies has maintained much of true ‘Madrileño’ spirit of the past.

It is not uncommon to see the young and old ambling along the streets together, gossip sessions shouted across the streets from balcony to balcony, or chairs that are put out on sidewalks or balconies for someone whose favorite entertainment is sitting and watching the world passes by.

There’s plenty of nightlife here, with a good selection of alternative locales. Cultural activities in this area include independent cinemas, theaters, and art galleries.

A fewer number of native Spaniards reside in Lavapies, mostly elders or pensioners who have no alternative.

Clashes

Lavapies, one of the areas with a high concentration of immigrants, looks somewhat like a maze full of paths and passages where one runs into people of different colors and backgrounds.

The diverse multi-ethnicity, however, sometime manifests itself rather violently.

The area has seen fierce clashes between immigrants of Moroccan and Asian origins over areas of influence and control.

In one such “battle”, swords and steel chains were used by scores of Moroccan and Asian immigrants in a show of force to demonstrate who holds sway in the area, Spanish media reported last month.

Shattered Dreams

Establishing a small business such as a clothes shop, a restaurant or a café is the ultimate dream of thousands of immigrants in Lavapies.

However, in the aftermath of the 2004 Madrid train bombing attacks, Lavapies was a scene of crackdown operations against immigrants, especially those hailing from Arab origin, for suspicion of being involved in the attacks.

Three of four suspects arrested were picked up in Lavapies, where chief suspect Jamal Zougam ran a cell phone shop.

This made it even more difficult for thousands of Muslim immigrants, already suffering unemployment and marginalization, to eke out a living.

Illegal immigration to Europe, especially to Spain, has been booming since the early 1990s.

Boats carrying thousands of illegal immigrants cross the Strait of Gibraltar toward the European coasts after the EU countries slapped entry visas on third-world citizens.

Spain has a Muslim minority of about 600,000, while Christian Catholics make up some 94 percent of its 40 million population.

The country has recognized Islam through the law of religious freedom issued in July 1967.