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The new harvesters of southern Spain


In the province of Huelva, Spain, it is estimated that there are more than 30 settlements where almost 2500 people live on a semi-permanent basis. With no water, no electricity and in very poor sanitary conditions, they wait to harvest the crops. What used to be temporary settlements for the workers have become small villages. It is a place of which it is said that you know when you get in but you never know when you’ll get out.


Paco came to Spain in 1984. Two years ago he had to leave his shared flat and move into one of these settlements. With his perfect Spanish, he lists all the cities he has lived in so far. “I have not been doing anything in particular, merely surviving”. Surviving. Every morning, among other workers, he waits at the closest roundabout to his settlement. They are waiting for a van to appear which will take all of them to the harvest fields. For one day of work, they will receive between 15 or 20 euros. These jobs are sporadic and, in most cases, under the table. “We earn enough to buy some food but it is impossible for us to save any money to get out of here”, says Sayid while he offers me a coffee. “I came here 8 years ago, I was not expecting to stay this long. At least now we have access to drinkable water. Before we only had the well and there were a lot of illnesses around here”, he says while drinking from a hose, which is the only source of drinkable water for a settlement where nearly 800 people live.


Behind him, a group of men is building a new house. Most of the houses are built with a wood structure and plastics to keep out the rain. They use the materials they find at the landfills of the area. In April of 2017, a fire destroyed over 300 hundred of these houses. Because of the materials used and the proximity of the houses, fires are a constant risk. “There is a social dining room in which they can at least get a meal a day, in between the harvesting crop times. I don't think they eat more than that”, says Domingo, a Caritas volunteer. “They normally don't tell their families where they are living. They lied to them saying they live in flats and have proper jobs and they send them all the money they can”. Caritas has been raising the situation of these settlements with the politicians of the area for years. Their goal is to raise awareness as well as encouraging solutions to the issue. Now I am talking to Luna, one of the few women living in the settlement, “They prefer women for the strawberry harvest but there are not many of them in here. We don't feel safe at all”. Luna came a year ago and sleeps on a mattress on the floor with other two other people.


It is Friday night and little by little all the workers are coming back from the fields. There is music coming from the nearest village. It is Christmas day and they are celebrating. “I am going to change my clothes and head to the party”, says Sayid while he walks the 20 meters that separate the settlement from the village, “in here you need to do normal things every once in a while”

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