1675560861 The residents of the migrant settlements in Nijar Every day

The residents of the migrant settlements in Níjar: “Every day we suffer more than the day before”

Mohamed, a 21-year-old Moroccan, doesn’t stop uploading videos to TikTok. He stages the images of two excavation machines collecting rubble with Arabic music. It is the remains of what was his home until a few days ago, the Walili settlement. This shanty town was demolished on Monday by the municipality of Níjar (Almería, population 26,126) with the support of a court order and a large police presence. Most of his 500 neighbors became homeless. And like him, they’ve moved into the fifty similar camps that exist in the region, where about 3,000 people survive. “Life is difficult, but there are no papers, there is no apartment. We have no other choice,” says Mohamed, who works in a greenhouse without a contract for five euros an hour.

Walili was a messy neighborhood with no drinking water and dozens of rudimentary connections to the electricity grid. Its tiny mosque, its houses made from waste from intensive agriculture, and the surrounding garbage are now rubble, which filled more than 200 trucks this week. The bad condition of the site has served as an argument for its demolition, although it is the same as all the surviving towns nearby. Social organizations believe that due to its proximity to the Cabo de Gata highway, it was the first to fall, leaving a bad image for tourism and business people. Níjar City Council claims that he was evicted because of insecurity. “People’s lives were seriously endangered,” said Mayor Esperanza Pérez (PSOE) on Friday in the municipal plenum, where she described the municipal performance as a model for all of Spain. As he spoke, the platform Derecho a Techo published a strong statement against him for the demolition, which was carried out with no alternative housing for those who had a roof there. They believe it is an “electoralist” measure. The Socialists won the last municipal elections in Níjar; in the general and regional elections, Vox and the PP were devastated.

Invisible among greenhouses, there are still many untidy neighborhoods that contrast with the cities of straight streets and brick houses built by Franco’s National Institute of Colonization in the 1960s. Vegetable production exploded under plastic three decades later. Businesses grew and workers were needed, most of whom came from Africa. No one realized they had to live somewhere, and many migrant workers ended up in Almeria’s hundreds of slums, most of them born between 2000 and 2005, according to a study by the Cepaim Foundation. Today, rural slums are a chronic problem – here and in other areas like Huelva – for which administrations have found no real solution and blame each other.

The plastic sea licks with numerous cracks through which human rights escape. “On the field with right! Your boss is not your owner,” reads a wall in the Los Grillos industrial area, eight kilometers from Walili. There is the industrial camp where Níjar has set up an emergency center for the displaced. Barely thirty stayed asleep. One of them is Hakim, who was born in Larache and turned 26 on Wednesday. He asks to change his name so his mother doesn’t recognize him. “She thinks I’m fine,” he explains. He lost his job because now he can’t travel to the greenhouse where he worked. I used to ride my bike, now it’s a long way. “The bosses don’t pick you up, they don’t give out gas,” he says. “And if you don’t go for two days, they find someone else and you stay out,” he adds. In an irregular administrative situation, he has no contract and “hopefully” earns 40 euros a day. “Life is very difficult. We put up with everything to get papers,” says his friend Nordin, 32.

Like them, many migrants go to the roundabouts of the highways every day in the dark of the morning, waiting for someone to need them. Others travel from farm to farm on bicycles or scooters in search of wages. Around 30,000 people work in agriculture in Níjar, most of them regular immigrants. But there are many others who don’t. “We do everything we can to work and help this part of Andalusia, but then nobody helps us with our rights,” says Nora, a 28-year-old Moroccan woman, while serving a welcome tea in her shack in Andalusia’s Atochares -Settlement. . About 700 people from Senegal, Ghana, Morocco and Algeria live there. It’s a space of muddy streets, dirt everywhere, and flimsy electric wires traversing unsanitary puddles. However, the interior of Nora’s house exudes dignity. There are three tiny rooms, carpets, an old sofa and an old tube TV. He says he lives in fear of fire because he saw the camp burn twice in four years. “Every day we suffer more than the day before,” says someone who has worked as a cleaner, waitress or geriatric nurse. Also in greenhouses. Always without a contract.

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Nora is known to almost all of her neighbors as Azzedine. After studying photography and five years as a soldier in the Sahara, he has been in Atochares for six months: “I came here to find a better life, but it’s very difficult without papers,” he says. His story has passages in common with those that David Coca and Antonio Verdejo hear every day while touring the cities of the province of Almería. “We show them that their rights exist,” Verdejo says as he visits the settlement next to the El Uno farmhouse in San Isidro. The agents consider it “undeniable” that for these people such a simple procedure as registration is very difficult, a duty and a right of every citizen.

Aerial view of the Atochares settlement in Níjar, Almería.Aerial view of the Atochares settlement in Níjar, Almería. PACO PUENTES

This would be a first step towards regularisation, but communities like Níjar refuse to do so despite government guidance. “The register must reflect the address at which each resident of the community actually resides,” regardless of ownership or circumstances of the dwelling, according to the instructions released in Spring 2020. For this reason, substandard housing “can and should appear as valid addresses”, as reflected in the text. “They won’t let us because they tell us we don’t have an address,” says Abdul, who lives in a semi-ruined farmhouse on the outskirts of Pueblo Blanco. Other compatriots agree with him that their only alternative is the black market. There are owners who allow migrants To in their apartments for 600 to 1,000 euros. More expensive are the employment contracts, which are also fundamental to regulate your administrative situation. There are farmers who offer it for 5,000 and 8,000 euros. Employers say they need these workers but cannot hire “the undocumented”.

The dates faithfully reflect the stories of labor exploitation told in the settlements. Employers, associations and administrations agree that these spaces must be abolished, “but as long as there is an alternative”. “Its existence is the result of the mismanagement of a need that has never been answered: housing,” explains Juan Miralles, director of Almería Acoge. Hardly any apartments have been built in the region in the last 20 or 30 years. The Junta de Andalucía and the government have encouraged the construction of just 62 houses – planned for the summer – next to the emergency center, but they are far from any population and without services, and the city council claims that it owns several houses that it wants to provide migrants, although it is not said how many. “The only solution is for everyone to agree to build a large stock of social housing,” concludes activist Ricardo Pérez, 26, one of the many who have tried unsuccessfully to stop the demolition of Walili. It was the home of young Mohammed who, after putting away his cellphone full of photos, says goodbye before heading to his new cabin in Barranquete, a nearby settlement that has no electricity. “That’s the only way,” the boy suspects.

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