The irregular seasonal workers of southern Spain, abandoned to their fate in the midst of a pandemic

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Lamine Diakité, an agricultural seasonal worker in southern Spain, has been sleeping in the open for two weeks since the shanty town where he lived burned down. Like her, hundreds of migrants, many in an irregular situation, are left to fend for themselves as the coronavirus pandemic picks up.

“Our shacks have burned, we have left more than 200 people on the street, and we have not received any urgent help,” which “in the midst of a pandemic is a risk for us and for the population,” sums up this 32-year-old Malian.

Along with him, and as a protest to demand a decent roof, dozens of African seasonal workers are sleeping on mattresses in a square in front of the town hall of Lepe, a municipality in Andalusia famous for its strawberry exports to much of Europe.

The hands of these seasonal workers, many of them in an irregular situation, are essential for harvesting crops in a Spain that boasts of supplying fruits and vegetables to all of Europe.

But in a place like Lepe they live in shacks without electricity or running water, raised with plastics, wooden pallets and mattresses, which between them manufacture and buy for 250 euros.

The migrants and the municipality of Lepe themselves point out that none of them were tested for the coronavirus.

Even so, many went to work as every year to other places, such as Lérida, in Catalonia, where a month ago an outbreak associated with seasonal workers forced the authorities to reconfigure the area until last Wednesday. Another similar outbreak occurred in the neighboring region of Aragon.

“It is very possible that there will continue to be some outbreaks associated with temporary workers,” warned the chief epidemiologist of the Ministry of Health, Fernando Simón.

At the moment, only the wine region of La Rioja (north) announced that it will carry out PCR tests on all seasonal workers, with or without a contract.

– Cross pressures –

The one in Lamine was one of the three shanty camps in the area that burned out in mid-July, for reasons still unknown and just when the collection of red fruits, which includes blueberries and raspberries, had finished.

At the door of one of those lands, now fenced, clothing and containers of flu drugs can still be seen on the ground.

“It was a crazy night,” recalls Ismaila Fall, a Senegalese man in his thirties who tried to put out the fire with sand and water and suspects it was provoked.

When looking for a solution, the panorama continues to be dominated by a dynamic of crossed pressures: the central government reminds the regions and municipalities of their responsibilities for accommodation and health, and they reply that they do not have enough money or skills.

“They are a problem of the State, not of the city council, we cannot regularize” these migrants, says Manuel Mora, mayor of Lucena del Puerto, a town near Lepe where another shanty town temporary establishment burned.

“Before coming to the farm you have to do the PCR tests, but the PCR has a big cost for the farmer, the government will have to get going” and facilitate them, adds Juan José Álvarez Alcalde, general director of the Asaja agricultural association.

– The UN warns –

In Lepe and surrounding areas, shanty town dates back to the 1980s. Recently, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty, Olivier De Schutter, urged local authorities to “put an end to the situation of degradation” in which seasonal workers live. irregular.

The city council proposed industrial land for the army to set up a temporary camp, but the military ruled it out due to the extreme heat in the area, a government source said.

Jesús Toronjo, number two of the lepero town hall, explained to AFP that they are considering the option of another municipal farm with a capacity for 800 people.

Although he insists that to tackle the problem “there must be a network of accommodation in all agricultural municipalities” in the area, and “we have to do that among all”, that is, with the support of the Spanish government and European funds, and a political understanding between neighboring municipalities.

A need for cooperation, however torpedoed by small power struggles.

An example of this is Lepe, where the NGO supporters of migrants do not hide their quarrels, and the conservative city council responded to the protest in front of its headquarters, denouncing a socialist councilor from a neighboring town, who chairs an NGO sympathetic to the temps camped there.

“Each one throws the ball next to the other,” says Antonio Abad, president of the pro-migrant NGO Asisti.

“The problem is the lack of political will, we understand that because it is this sector of the immigrant population, they do not vote.”

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