An upsurge of violent street crime is currently gripping the popular Spanish resort of Barcelona. A series of muggings, including the recent violent attack on a foreign diplomat has resulted in the United States embassy in Spain issuing a statement warning American nationals of the rise of violent crime in the city.
The statement highlights an increase of violent offences committed this summer in the city’s most popular tourist areas, including the forceful theft of jewellery, wallets and watches. In some cases, victims have sustained serious injuries. The embassy advises American visitors to remain alert in the busy tourist districts and advises individuals against flaunting any signs of wealth. Individuals are also warned against putting up any form of resistance should they become the victim of an attack.
The statement from the embassy comes in the wake of string of violent street robberies including an attack where the Afghan ambassador in Spain, Humayoon Rasaw, was robbed in central Barcelona. Mr Rasaw suffered a leg injury in the attack after being knocked to the ground by a group of men who made off with his watch. On the same night, a 91 year old French woman suffered head injuries when thieves grabbed her necklace. Two days earlier a German tourist was taken to hospital after being mugged in the same area. In June this year, a South Korean woman who was visiting Barcelona as part of a government delegation died from a head injury after falling when a thief snatched her purse.
According to data from City Hall, Americans account for Barcelona’s biggest tourist contingent, followed closely by the British. However, other countries have expressed concerns for the safety of their nationals visiting the city.
The website of the French Consulate has a list of recommendations that include keeping an eye on valuables, watching out for pickpockets on public transport and being particularly careful in popular tourist areas such as Las Ramblas and the Gothic quarter. Japan has published a leaflet highlighting the Sagrada Familia basilica and the Park Güell as potential trouble spots. Japanese tourists have also been advised against carrying valuable items and to be wary of scams.
With a population of 1.6 million, over the past twelve months the city has attracted 16 million visitors. However, the city has long had an unwanted reputation for the gangs of pick-pockets and other petty criminals who have plagued Barcelona’s most visited tourist spots.
Conscious of the negative publicity and the adverse impact on the city’s vital tourist trade, leading figures have spoken out about the problem. Barcelona city hall’s head of security, Albert Batlle, has described the current situation as “a crime crisis”. Luis Sans, president of an association representing businesses on the Passeig de Gràcia, a major street running through central Barcelona stressed that “it’s time to admit the situation is out of control”.
With so much at stake, some are looking to point the finger of blame. Alberto Fernández of the conservative Popular Party (PP) has previously stated that 80% of the immigrant minors, who are predominantly from Morocco, “end up in criminal circles and undermine coexistence” in the communities where they reside.
Others are more broad-minded in their views. “This is a big, complex city and there are many factors at play,” said one spokesperson for the Catalan police, stressing that the force had increased its arrest rate in a bid to stem the rise in crime. “We don’t believe there is one cause behind all this.”
In response to criticism that Barcelona lacked officers on the streets, the Catalan regional government has agreed to deploy 300 extra police to the city. Official figures show that funding to fight crime increased by 16% in 2018 with an additional increase of 11% in this year’s budget.
Nevertheless, the upsurge in violent attacks in a city that relies so heavily on its vibrant tourist trade has become a major concern. Barcelona’s head of security insists the problem should not be overly inflated claiming that “Barcelona is still a safe city in comparison with others, like Paris, London or Rome“. Regardless of opinion, Barcelona needs to address this problem fast before its image and vibrant tourist trade becomes even further tarnished.