The residents of La Línea de la Concepción are leaving, like rats deserting a sinking ship.
They’ve been crossing the border by the thousands since early morning, first the cleaning women, nannies and construction workers, and then the smugglers. They all want to get out of Spain, if only for a few hours. There is work across the border, in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, and work spells hope for a better life.
La Linea has around a 40% unemployment rate and it’s rising.
Many Families have had to resort to smuggling cigarettes in order to put food on their plates.
Several trips per day will be made by ‘Matuteras’ overweight women, who can hide more easily excess cartons of cigarettes about their person.
The women set out across the border. The more experienced ones wear their ID cards on a chain around their necks, so that they don’t have to search for it every time they cross the border. One carton of cigarettes per person and crossing is allowed. Those who do not get checked and registered put on different clothes on the Spanish side and set out for Gibraltar again.
The border crossers make a profit of €4 per carton. The operators of the kiosks on the Spanish side, who will sell the cigarettes later, collect another €6. The actual retail price is another €9 higher. But the retail price is no longer important in La Línea, where five of the several regular tobacco shops have gone out of business
The fact that many people “prefer to make €200 a day smuggling cigarettes than €400 a month as an unskilled worker in a supermarket,” as a Guardia Civil officer at the border puts it, doesn’t make things easier.