A fire destroyed the slum village of strawberry pickers in Palos de la Frontera, on the Spanish south coast. About 400 migrants could not save more than the clothes they were wearing. Shelter hasnt been there since that fire a month ago, so theyre just rebuilding the hovels.
Pepa Suárez, a retired teacher, helps with a group of volunteers in the burnt slum village. She points. The fire sea has destroyed an area of two football fields.
“Look, new hovels are already being set up. People have to, too. Otherwise, they will have to sleep on the street,” says Suárez. “Although not everyone can afford a dump. You will need building materials; pallets, plastic, cardboard. That costs money, quickly two hundred euros. Not everyone has that.”
The red gold
In the Huelva region there are more slumber villages, where thousands of farm workers live. Most of them come from Morocco and other West African countries. Especially during the harvest time of strawberries – around this time – the demand for pickers is high.
The strawberries, blackberries and blueberries are the red gold. Last year, the region exported almost half a billion euros, largely destined for the European Union. A third goes to Germany. Then follow England, France, Italy and the Netherlands.
One of the strawberry pickers living in the slum village in Palos de la Frontera is Hamid:
It is of little interest to local administrators how the farm workers live in the fire-hazardous villages without water, surrounded by waste and their own droppings, according to Pepa Suárez. “The strawberry picking is an outright business and workers are drawing the shortest end. Theyre people with no rights. Theyre invisible. You can fire them whenever you want. It doesnt matter to local drivers.”
A smelly stream made a mud puddle. A man with a stroller with jerry cans of water comes by. Beyond that sounds ticking of hammers. Abou Sidibe, a farm worker from Côte dIvoire, has just finished setting up a new home. “Of course, these new hovels are just as dangerous as the previous ones. But there is no other solution.”
He shows his arm on which a burn slowly heals. It wasnt the first fire that hit the migrant villages. “People use everything to make fires when cooking. Wood, gas bottles. All very dangerous. In Côte dIvoire, we do not make houses from pieces of plastic.”
Solution must come from the government
Attempts to interview the Mayor of Palos de la Frontera come to naught. But then we meet in front of the town hall, where Mayor Carlos Romero waits for a service car. “Of course we can solve the situation,” Romero quickly agrees. “Only that solution must come from the government. Not from a local council. We do not have the power to say anything about migration policy. But its clear. If you are staying here illegally, you have to go back to your country.”
Romero shakes the head. “Of course, its sad that people sleep on the street. But these people dont have any papers, and theres a trade around those hovels. It is quite possible that they will set fire to their homes themselves. So that others collect money to set up new hovels again.” Romero says he doesnt have evidence for that.
Blackened trees rise above the battered terrain, which is very similar to the landscape around the Perseverance cart that landed on Mars. Shards of glass crack under your feet, while on the other side of the road strawberries turn red in long beds.
A Moroccan woman tells how she has been living in the slum village with her husband and child for three years. There are no alternatives, because finding work is not easy. “There are contracts offered to me on the farms. But then I have to go out with the supervisor first. Thats another word for having sex. We didnt come here to sleep with Spanish farmers.”