Thousands of migrant strawberry pickers from Morocco are trapped in Spain. Local groups call it a humanitarian crisis.
Since the late 1990s, thousands of Moroccan seasonal workers have come every year for the strawberry harvest. Around 17,000, mostly female, Moroccan seasonal workers were supposed to come this year to the southern Spanish province of Huelva for the strawberry harvest.
Alicia Navascues thinks "this hiring model is a modern form of slavery." If working conditions were decent, she pointed out, then locals would be keen to take on these jobs, since the province has had a high unemployment rate in the past few years. "This model of capitalistic exploitation does not work, not for these women," she said. Yet for now it seems it will take more than a pandemic to change it.
Only 7,200 of these so-called temporeras made it there after the borders with Morocco were closed on March 13 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But once the harvest season finished and their contracts expired, most of them have found themselves trapped as their home country kept its doors closed and refused to repatriate them.
Migrant support groups speak of a "humanitarian crisis." The laborers' contracts expired in mid-June, but since then only around a hundred women, who were sick or about to give birth, have been repatriated. Others have given birth during their stay in Spain, working until the day before, if not the very same day they went into labor. A midwife who assisted some of these births told DW that "these women were alone and unable to communicate."
"They are running out of money and, as time goes by they're becoming more and more vulnerable," Jose Maria Castellon, a member of the rights group APDHA, told DW.
The agricultural model of Spain has been questioned for years because of the working and living conditions of its migrant workers.
Apart from seasonal pickers — mostly from Morocco, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria — hundreds of sub-Saharan migrants live year-round in shantytowns close to the fields. Last February, after a visit to the camps, the United Nations' Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights said: "They live like animals. Their conditions are among the worst that I have seen in any part of the world."
At the places where they stay, many don't have proper ventilation, toilets or running water. Social distancing is a rare privilege.
"If they had been professional football players, they would have been sent back home right away, but they're poor women," Alicia Navascues, a local human rights activist, told DW.
Now it is possible for the Moroccan workers to return by plane or by ship, but only from French and Italian ports. The harvesters say they cannot afford those tickets. Without a negative test result Morocco will not let them go back home.