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Brits in Spain fearful after calls for ‘black list’ of foreign residents

British retirees who have lived in the Spanish town of Girona since 2019 say they fear being “black listed” as UK nationals and are afraid to speak in public after local activists called for a census of foreign residents amid a surge in anti-tourist sentiment.

John, 67, and Rosalind, 78 – which are not their real names – said they seldom leave their homes except for quick trips to run errands and when they do, they keep a low profile and avoid speaking in the hope that nobody identifies them as Brits.

“There’s a real climate of anti-expat, and particularly anti-British sentiment in Girona nowadays, as in most Spanish tourist areas heavily populated by foreigners. Many people look at us sideways, and occasionally spit after we pass by on the street,” said John, a former engineer.

Last month, the Plataforma Decreixement Turístic Girona, (Platform for the reduction of tourists in Girona) which is a group of local activists who are against over-tourism in the city took to the streets calling for the local council to create a list of foreign residents “alien” to the local culture.

The group is calling for an end to mass tourism and has published a manifesto that rails against wealthy “expats”, who have allegedly turned parts of the city into “totally elitist ghetto areas with their backs to people’s basic needs”.

“Among us expats, we have now called it a ‘black list’ for we are considered ‘rogue’ residents and tourists. Sounds like a dictatorship-style approach to over-tourism, if that’s what they’re against,” John said.

TOPSHOT - Protesters hold a banner reading "Mallorca is not for sale" during a demonstration to protest against the massification of tourism and housing prices on the island of Mallorca in Palma de Mallorca on May 25, 2024. Thousands of people demonstrated in the Spanish city of Palma de Mallorca against excess tourism, one of the main sources of wealth in the area, under the slogan "Mallorca is not for sale." (Photo by JAIME REINA / AFP) (Photo by JAIME REINA/AFP via Getty Images)
Protesters hold a banner reading “Mallorca is not for sale” during a demonstration to protest against the massification of tourism and housing prices on the island of Mallorca in Palma de Mallorca (Photo: Jaime Reina/AFP)

Pedro Sanchez, a 55-year-old Girona activist who wants all expats out told i that foreigners are “spoiling and exploiting Spain’s beauty without any respect for local culture”.

Girona’s case is just the latest in a series of protests against expats and tourism that have been held in traditionally popular holiday retreats luring many British nationals among others, such as the Balearic islands of Palma de Majorca and Ibiza.

Girona, where expats make up around 20 per cent of the local population of around 100,000 residents, is renowned for its stunning architecture, golden sandy beaches and as the backdrop for hit television series Game of Thrones.

The area is a hub for cyclists and more than 30 cycling businesses have been graffitied in recent days with slogans like “go home” and “enough with mass mass tourism,” The Local reported.

“Just because of the misbehavior of some loud, crazy drunk Brit partygoers we are now all branded as ‘monsters’ that should be evicted from the country,” said Rosalind, a former interior designer.

Rosalind and John, who are both widowed, each bought a two-bedroom cottage in the medieval district of Girona and took up Spanish residency just before Brexit came into force.

They say the anti-expat sentiment is pushed by the “envy of low-earning Spaniards who think the Brits can buy all they want with their sterling,” Rosalind said.

“It’s more of a social class war, rather than a clash between different nationalities and cultures. Many locals who follow far-right, populist groups in Catalonia, are mad that we get to buy the most gorgeous homes and come here to live the dream under the Spanish sun, where the cost of living for us, but not for them, is low,” John said.

Rosalind said last week she reported to the police that two of her garden chairs had been robbed and her French pink roses totally destroyed in what she claimed was an “act of vandalism”.

“I forgot to take the chairs inside one evening, my house is on one floor with just a short brick wall separating it from the outside alley. Someone likely jumped over it into my property,” she said.

Meanwhile, John has changed his daily routine to avoid walking his dog too late at night. He now runs errands at midday when more people are around and takes the dog out for a last round just before sunset.

“I used to feel safe here in Girona. Catalonia, as opposed to Spain’s south, has always been more liberal but with the separatists and extremists gaining more power by the day, political chaos leads to an uncertain outlook,” he said.

The news of activists calling for a “census” has been a topic of conversation among their local community, with both Rosalind and John hearing locals talk about it at the bakery and bar.

“I used to regularly go out once a week with other Brit friends for tapas and paella, now we feel uneasy and prefer to meet at mine or their place. We feel targeted,” says Rosalind.

Girona’s ajuntamento (City council) has said a census already exists with 330 British nationals registered in Girona.

Local police did not comment on reports of vandalism targeted at British expats

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