Spaniards try luck in north and south

BERGEN, Norway Thu May 31, 2012 3:16am EDT

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BERGEN, Norway (Reuters) - Finding no easy options abroad, a few hundred unemployed Spaniards have risked frostbite in wealthy Norway, where the press call them "euro refugees". Others head south to Morocco, where they hope to stay warm at least until Europe's economic crisis has passed.

Patricia Morales, a 26-year old unemployed PE instructor from Madrid, spent her first night staring into space in a bare hostel room after flying into the windswept port town of Bergen last summer. She found night work at a fish processing plant after weeks of cleaning work and souvenir sales. Now, in a country enriched by oil and gas, she cuts and packages supermarket sushi meals.

Good English has been an advantage. Jorn Age Stikholmen, operations manager at the plant, says he can use people who speak enough English to learn fish names in Norwegian: Morales, now has a permanent job and joined a local basketball team.

"Some are just hopeless cases," says Stikholmen. At least two Spaniards ended up in hospital with swollen, frostbitten hands after nights homeless on winter streets. Some collect bottles in the streets for recycling - at 1 krona a time - others scour for rubbish.

The number formally registering as tax payers in Norway jumped to 291 in the first quarter of 2012 compared with 198 a year earlier, a fraction of the real number of people in work, but still far short of thousands of Poles and Lithuanians who arrive each year.

Naturalized immigrants returning to countries like Morocco, Romania and Ecuador accounted for the lion's share of Spanish emigration in 2011 but a few Spaniards are joining them.

A short hop across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain in the Moroccan town of Martil, a handful of Spaniards find work more easily - a history of Spanish influence attracts Spanish tourists, and Spanish is more widely spoken.

At the start of 2012, fewer than 3,000 Spaniards were registered as living in Morocco according to Spanish data, but the phenomenon is striking because the flow of migrants is normally in the opposite direction: around 44,000 Moroccans moved to Spain in 2010, Eurostat data show.

"A lot of Spaniards who come to live here have low to medium incomes," said Paco Jimenez, coordinator of the Catholic church. "A lot of them are working in tourism, agriculture, real estate ... Some come here because it is close to Spain and Ceuta so they can return home easily when the crisis ends."

Manuel Bakaro, an artist and designer, said he initially came to help a friend who retired to the town. "I think the financial crisis is among the reasons we are here," he said. "I was working as a teacher of biology in Spain and as an art designer but those last few years I could not pay my rent, electricity and telephone."

Natalia, from the Spanish island of Ibiza, lives with her husband in Martil. She earns 2,600 dirhams ($300) a month in her job teaching Spanish. Her husband, who is from Madrid, brings home 5,000 dirhams. By Moroccan standards, they are comfortable because their monthly rent only comes to 2,000 dirhams. Yet they plan to move on soon.

"In the summer I will try to go to Spain to find a job there," said Natalia. "I hope the crisis will finish soon so that I can go back home."

(Alistair Scrutton reported from Bergen, Zakia Abdennebi from Martil, Morocco; additional reporting by Sarah Morris in Madrid; edited by Sara Ledwith)

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