A few hundred metres away from the classic landmarks of luxury and opulence, foreign residents who have started the process of obtaining Spanish nationality in Marbella are forced to stand in queues for more than 12 hours just to get a number that allows them to be seen at the registry office.
Men and women of all ages, forced to wait outside all night long, have become part of the scenery on Avenida Arias de Velasco, where the building that houses part of Marbella’s courts is located.
It’s 9pm on Monday and there’s still 12 hours until the registry office opens. Ajmal, who was born in India and has been in Spain for 17 years, has arrived and is applying for Spanish nationality for his two daughters. He knows he is facing an uncomfortable night. This is the fifth time he’s come, but so far he has not been seen.
The civil servant who processes these cases is only available three days a week (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday) and in one morning can only process 24 files. That has become the magic number in the queue. The rest will have to come back another day. When? No one can give any guarantees.
Experience has taught Ajmal that getting up early and standing outside at five or six in the morning won’t do. By the time he shows up, there are already 14 people ahead of him. They arrive wrapped up warm, some with thermoses, others with chairs and blankets. They know the night will be long.
At 10.50pm, 24 people are already there. Every day, this number is reached earlier. So when Natalia arrives, a Chilean with just one more step to go to obtain Spanish nationality, the disbelief is visible on her face.
She’s been told that she has six months to take the oath of allegiance to the King and obedience to the Constitution, and if she doesn’t do so within that time, she has to start all over again. The deadline is near and if she fails to take the oath, she won’t be able to get nationality. This is the fifth time she has tried, and though she comes earlier each time, she has never managed to be among the first 24.
In Malaga city, as in all provincial capitals, there is an electronic appointment system in place. In Marbella, however, that’s not yet the case. Most in the queue complain that they are literally losing sleep and that most of their mornings are lost and that their children can’t go to school because no one else can take them. Others will lose a day of work.
Despite being number seven on the list, Monica knows it’s not just a matter of waiting. Despite a provisional list being drawn up over the course of the night to try to ensure fairness, on a previous occasion when she was in the top 24, she ended up missing out when someone jumped the queue.
When the sun rises, others begin to arrive in the belief that an early start will be enough for them to get in. When those in line inform her, Lucy, a Peruvian who has been in Spain for several years, decides to stay “in case someone drops out”. No one does.
At 9am the door opens. Iza, who was first on the list, is no longer there. Her place is taken by a young man who has just turned up in a Porsche with Moroccan number plates. We don’t know if he bought her place or he sent an employee to wait in line for him. “We don’t care as long as he doesn’t take our place,” says Khalid, a 19-year-old Moroccan who has the list in his hands.
When the doors open the queue is already formed in its order and Khalid runs to stand next to the guard who hands out the numbers. He goes through the names in order as the guard hands out the numbers with the turns. Khalid is number 20; Lucy gets 25. She won’t be seen, but decides to stay until the next day. She has a 24-hour wait ahead of her.