The British community is one of the most closed of those who come to live in Spain. The citizens of the United Kingdom often reproduce next to the Mediterranean the lives they had before retiring in their country of origin. Same customs, same language, same restaurants and pubs, few relations with the population that welcomes them. As in England, but with sunshine. Therefore, the significant drop in population that has affected many of the tourist towns along the coast of Alicante has been deeply felt. "Many of the Britons who lived here are gone, many … Fortunately, things seem to be improving and returns have slowed down," says Kevin Reardon, president of the British Legion in Orihuela Costa.
According to INE data, Orihuela and its metropolitan area have lost 12.5% of the population in the last five years. 6.5% in the last decade. And most of this descent must be attributed to Orihuela Costa, a hamlet located next to the sea about 40 kilometers from the urban center of Oriola. An area populated mostly by chanes, which is what they call foreigners, from 101 different nationalities according to the City Council. Of them, most are English. And where there is an Englishman, there is a branch of the British Legion, an organization that helps veterans of the British Army and their families.
Reardon remained firm and kept his census in the Alicante coast. However, around him, the number of compatriots did not stop decreasing. The crisis affected a lot. But, in his case, "the real problem is Brexit," he says. "There is a lot of uncertainty and people are very irritated with everything that is happening." In his opinion, the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union has not been well explained. "No one knows yet what is going to happen." And a large part of the foreign residents decided to return to their countries. Some "kept their homes as a base for their vacations," he explains. But others sold out their homes at the time when the slowdown in construction left house prices in tatters. "And most of them are regretting, because they have lost a lot of money with the transaction," says Reardon.
Therefore, this British resident in Spain "for many years," so much that he prefers not to detail, trusts that his countrymen return to this area of the Alicante coast, which, like all in which there are large numbers of foreign residents, is perfectly clean, maintained, equipped and adapted to your needs. "The houses are sold again, the businesses are working again, it seems that everything is going better," he says. In addition, the sanitary measures taken by both the central executive and the Valencian regional government, to return to provide medical care to all citizens, are an incentive. "Sanchez and Puig have recovered the Health for us", applauds the leader of the British Legion Oriolana, "and that has made us very happy".
The Oriolan City Council, moreover, has taken action on the matter. And last June launched a campaign to "encourage the registration of foreign residents," according to municipal sources. And, apparently, they have succeeded, since "since the beginning of the campaign, 855 foreigners have been registered," they say. With this initiative, they intend to "maintain and increase the population figures of Orihuela as a large municipality, because with them increase and improve public services and the quality of them", explained the Councilor for Statistics of Orihuela, Noelia Grao, during the presentation of the project. Some brochures in Spanish, French, German and English and a whole series of facilities to access the census were the core of this proposal, launched with an eye on Orihuela Costa, "a fundamental pillar in the development of the municipality", according to the same sources.
If the coast has been affected by the flight of residents, the interior of the province of Alicante has suffered the departure of foreigners who worked in the industrial, agricultural and, above all, construction sectors. But, there is a city that also suffers from the chronic aging of its population. It's about Alcoi. Located in a privileged environment, in an irregular valley sewn with bridges, this municipality, of great relevance during the first years of the 20th century, has seen the figure of 60,000 inhabitants lowered, a psychological barrier. Due to its orographic situation, it can hardly grow. And the loss of competitiveness of its industry, mainly textiles, has made young people leave it to not return.
This is the case of Eneas González, 32, who works in the Communication Department of the University of Alicante. He left Alcoi to study and has not returned. His girlfriend, his sister, his nephews and his parents, either. All alcoyanos, all residents in the provincial capital. "You go studying, then you get scholarship after scholarship, in the end you get a job and you stay," he says. His parents have moved after retirement to be close to grandchildren. Of course, every weekend and in the festivities, such as the festivities of Moors and Christians, returns to his hometown. "I'm in the car and, as soon as I get to Alcoi, the first thing I do is open the car window to breathe the pure mountain air," he confesses.
The City of Orihuela launched last June a campaign to "encourage the registration of foreign residents"
"I think what makes the difference between going out and staying are higher education," says González. "For those who study abroad, there are more opportunities to find work in your area and more aspirations to grow in the workplace". The alcoyanos are a town with a lot of roots. "We never renounce our Alcoianía", admits the journalist, "we maintain our roots, but we look for our lives". And since the road access from Alcoi was changed, the comings and goings have been simplified a lot. "Before, it took an hour to get from Alicante, now from door to door takes 40 minutes."
Of his group of old friends, half have left and the other half have stayed. Like, for example, Javier Jaén, who works in the insurance brokerage where he did the internship after completing a higher module of Professional Training in International Trade. His whole life is in Alcoi. Your work, your family and your wife. But at certain times, he notices the casualties of the usual companions. "Now it's much more complicated that we all get together," he laments, "it's not the same anymore."
From his point of view, the big problem of Alcoi is that "he has lost everything he had and does not improve what he has left". The city was a first industrial power. "Here there were factories of textile, of paper, the bottling of Coca-Cola", he says, "but everything has been lost". The emergence of global trade, the rise of Chinese products, for example, reduced the productivity of the capital of the Alcoià region of Alicante. And it happens in all areas. "Of all the construction companies there were, only one or two remain," he says.
The historic center is empty on weekends, the only existing shopping center "does not work and has already changed five or six times of management" since it was launched. "There is hardly any work," he continues. His wife has to travel every day to Onil, twenty minutes by car, where she signs each morning at "a toy company." Other nearby locations, such as Ibi or Banyeres, give more opportunities to find positions in the industrial sector, especially. And, according to his perception, "from the City Council the only new thing they are promoting is tourism, which gives the work it gives".
Municipal sources, on the other hand, have an impact on the fact that employment generation policies have reduced unemployment "by 26% in the last four years". Alcoyano consistory attributes this fall to the "effort of our industry and entrepreneurs," as well as "to the different actions we have taken from the City Council and the aid of other administrations." "For our part, we have made a great effort in the guidance department of the City of Alcoi quadrupling its staff, we have also directly contracted more than 400 people of different age groups and with different qualifications," the sources consulted continue. "We have improved all the industrial areas of Alcoi," they say, "and we have increased aid for the creation of businesses and businesses, especially in the center."
Alcoi is one of the places where architectural modernism had an important impact. Its surroundings have many mountain enclaves, such as Font Roja, La Serreta or El Molinar, crossed by paths and routes with tourist possibilities. It also has an important industrial past that is trying to adapt to the 21st century. "This has to be taken advantage of, naturally, but it is not enough," Jaén says. "The city has to generate many more opportunities for people to stay." Otherwise, as González adventure, will become a "bedroom city of Alicante" that will only keep his breath "on weekends and festivals of Moors and Christians." They are celebrated in April, in commemoration of San Jorge, and for the alcoyanos they are inalienable.
To the loss of real population it is necessary to add the legislation on the enumeration. Who was in the register remained in him long before the authorities detected his departure or death. Not now. "With the new regulations on foreigners, municipalities must check every two or five years that their situation has not changed. In the event that it has changed, you must cancel them. In an area with such a high rate of foreign population, this regulation has a great influence on the census, "says José Antonio Larrosa, director of the Department of Human Geography at the University of Alicante.