LEPE – Since the beginning of this century, more and more slums have sprung up around the municipalities where strawberry cultivation is dominant in the southern Spanish province of Huelva. Seasonal workers often have no choice but to settle here.
There is often no other accommodation than the rickety huts on the outskirts of Lepe, Moguer, Lucena del Puerto, and Palos de la Frontera. On the one hand, the workers cannot pay rent from their meager wages. However, on the other hand, homeowners prefer not to rent out to migrants who often come from Africa. Moreover, many of them are still awaiting the legalisation of their situation.
Cooperation protocol signed
Now the national government, the administration of Andalucia, and the municipalities are joining forces to build shelter and alternative housing for the immigrant day labourers. A week ago, they signed a cooperation protocol to promote the construction of housing and the adaptation of spaces to promote shelter for seasonal workers in the next 2 years. Furthermore, a budget of €5 million has been set aside for this initiative.
It is the first major collaboration between the three administrations to eradicate slums in the province. After decades, national, regional, and local institutions have mostly watched as this situation of overpopulation of migrants in substandard housing spiralled out of control.
40 Slums in Province of Huelva
There are no official figures on the number of people living in the 40 slums in the province of Huelva. However, a Huelva-based NGO estimates that between 4,500 and 5,000 people live there during the strawberry picking season. In addition, the population of the neighbourhoods is volatile. Many residents move from one camp to another. Added to this is the number of people permanently living there. That is estimated at 1,500.
The NGOs are happy with the signed protocol. “All the housing resources that are being created are progress. Slums are a global problem that requires global action,” said Francisco Villa, head of the NGO Accem in Huelva.
“It is an important step because until now we have felt a bit lonely,” explains the mayor of Lepe, Juan Manuel González Camacho in El País. Lepe has 28,293 inhabitants and is the epicentre of strawberry cultivation in Huelva. “In Lepe, we have 5,300 immigrants. But only 1,000 live in the city, and that is our specific problem,” said the mayor. The city council has always been very involved in eradicating slums, although not always successfully. His decision not to allow the rebuilding of the burnt-out slums or the rehabilitation of a municipal shelter has forced many workers to sleep on the streets this season due to the lack of places to sleep.
Housing is not the only solution
Pepa Suárez, the spokesperson for the Mazagón Multicultural Association, says it is “very positive that serious housing alternatives are being proposed to give a dignified treatment to those who generate wealth for the municipalities in Huelva”. That is the first step. But on the other hand “it is necessary to guarantee their integration into society”, says a spokesperson for the NGO.
Regularisation of 500,000 migrants
In this line, the civil society organisations have sent a series of proposals in general terms to the central government that is not explicitly included in the agreement. They want the regularization of 500,000 migrants working in the fields of Huelva, Almería, Lleida and Jaén. The right to registration must be respected. Contract terms should be monitored and public and private transport to the farms strengthened.
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Devastating report from UN Rapporteur
After decades of witnessing an embarrassing lack of concern on the part of governments, this deal is an important step. In 2020, a UN rapporteur visited the Lepe slums. This resulted in a devastating report on human rights violations and the extreme poverty in which the workers lived. This was a boost to the sleeping conscience of a society to which a group of fellow humans remained invisible, despite that group being fundamental to the expansion of the strawberry and other red fruit crops that brought economic progress to their towns and cities.
The NGOs are surprised that the protocol signed by the national and regional government does not include any municipality in the province of Almería. After all, the phenomenon of slums has been permanent there for decades. In and around the ‘mar de plástico’ at El Ejido, the urgency is hot Same or bigger, as more people live in slums here.
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According to Juan Miralles, head of Almería Acoge, there are about 80 slums in Almería. They originated in the mid-1990s and now between 3,000 and 5,000 families live there more or less permanently.