Issa Diallo and his co-workers are facing a strange eviction.
Diallo and some fifty others live in a slum of shanty houses, a swath of private property near the city cemetery in the Spanish city of Lepe. They work in the nearby strawberry farms, along with thousands of other migrants, largely a mix of Moroccans, sub-Saharans, and Romanians.
The shanty houses are mostly inhabited by Africans, and now the city authorities have been coming around Diallo’s settlement to warn him and others that they need to move on. Their make-shift housing is slated for demolition. His job, though, is quite secure.
“In Lepe there are many houses, but they don’t rent them to Africans,” Diallo, a seasonal worker in Spain explained to the Spanish newspaper Alpha y Omega.
Strawberries in Spain have been nicknamed ‘red gold’ thanks to the success of the industrialised strawberry farms that have amassed in the last few decades. Spain is the largest exporter of strawberries in the world and thousands of foreign workers are required each year to pick them out of their plastic hothouses and get them to market across Europe. The Huelva province, where Lepe is located, is the capital of the strawberry industry. Both entities are part of the Andalusia region.
The Lepe Town Hall confirmed to Alpha y Omega that it sent workers to the shanty town for census and security purposes but did not confirm that it intends to demolish the area, only that there may have been some disagreements.
Alfonso Romera, from La Carpa, an association also involved with migrant workers, adds that the alleged demolition may be because the owner of the land “wants to make use of it.” “It is their legitimate right,” he stresses, but those who live there also need a place to go.
Last July, the Lepe City Council, the Andalusian Government, and the Ministry of Social Affairs, signed a protocol for the eradication of settlements that included providing alternative housing to those living in illegal slums. On this basis, several NGOs and more than twenty seasonal workers have filed a complaint in court as well as sent a letter to the Defensor del Pueblo, a type of ombudsman, denouncing the alleged demolition of Diallo’s shanty town.
Spain set the new legal minimum wage at €33.33 a day in February 2022, though those who work illegally and therefore without a contract may earn less.
Missing Workers, Fined Farmer
Northwest of Lepe, in the Andalusian province of Jaén, the Civil Guard has been investigating the disappearance in January 2021 of Ibrahima Diouf, an olive farm worker of Senegalese nationality.
As part of the investigation, they searched the olive farm where he had previously worked, in the town of Villacarrillo. There, they discovered that another worker, of Malian origin, disappeared from this farm in 2013 and was never found. The Malian went missing after he and other migrant workers from his crew argued with the farm owner about their working conditions.
The farm owner was tried in 2016 not only for causing the worker’s disappearance but also for exploiting migrant workers. He was acquitted of the worker’s disappearance but was convicted of labour exploitation and electric power fraud.
Villacarillo boasts the largest olive cooperative in Europe.