By Chukwuma A Animba
The rambla (seasonal stream bed) in front of our house in Andalusia, Spain becomes a makeshift football pitch during the dry season. One day, I ran into a handful of African lads playing football in the rambla, in what was otherwise a very white town. I decided to get to the bottom of it. I drew closer and watched them play. I recall contemplating for all of 10 nanoseconds to join them; but perished the thought as my fitness – or rather the lack thereof- would’ve been shown up immediately. They were all nimble and agile.
As we exchanged banter, I discovered that they were almost all from the so-called African francophone countries such as Senegal and Mali. Those that had been in Spain for a few years could speak ‘broken’ Spanish. One of them later directed me to the North African shop where I bought condiments for my first Spanish egusi, whilst another helped me translate what I wanted for the Moroccan storekeeper. That was where I had that infamous “Orangutans & Palm Oil” debate with my daughter.
Now, what were these agile African youth doing in Andalusia and what has their presence here got to do with Greenhouses?
Andalusia is the most populous and second largest autonomous region in Spain. In terms of economy, it is one of the poorest regions of Spain with a mostly agrarian economy. With its unique placement as the only region in Europe with both Atlantic & Mediterranean coastlines, it is also home to the hottest climates in the country and the only desert in Europe. Andalusia has featured in many Spaghetti
Westerns (A Fistful of Dollars, Once upon a time in the West etc) & classics like Lawrence of Arabia, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and most recently Game of Thrones.
A prominent feature of the picturesque landscape of the region are the seemingly endless plastic sheets covering vast fields. Enter the greenhouses! The plastic sheets are used for the intensive forced cultivation of strawberries, raspberries,
blueberries, and other fruits grown under hothouse conditions. Most supermarkets in Europe would’ve at some point stocked such fruits grown in Andalusia, especially over the winter months. This has generated billions for the farmers and
the evidence of this could be seen in the exotic villas that dot the countryside. The less talked about seedy underbelly of this burgeoning agrarian economy is the use of migrant labour under often inhuman and degrading conditions to cultivate these fruits.
Back to my francophone friends. The bulk of them are no doubt West Africans migrants, who arrived via rickety boats across the Atlantic Ocean. It is not an uncommon sight on the picturesque beaches to see migrants literally jumping off boats & dinghies to walk ashore. The unfortunate ones perish and get washed ashore by the tide.
According to figures released by Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, the number of arrivals in Spain via the Western Mediterranean route doubled in 2018 to 57,000; Spain had taken over from Italy as the most active migratory corridor. More than 1,600 people have died or gone missing this year, the UNHCR said in a new report; with the rate of fatalities rising sharply, particularly in the Mediterranean Sea. This meant that for every 18 people crossing to Europe over the central Mediterranean between January and July 2018, one person died.
Because many of these immigrants are undocumented, the farmers who ‘employ’ them consider them to be completely dispensable and keep them slaving under conditions that could best be described as horrible. First of all, they do not bother asking them for official documents, because they know they do not have them, then they proceed to exploit them by making them work ungodly hours in terrible climatic conditions. If any of these migrants fail to show up, they are promptly replaced with little or no cost to the farmers.
Workers have been known to collapse whilst toiling away with no recourse to medical care as they are undocumented.
The ascendance of Right-Wing ideologies in European politics is even worsening the situation for migrants. The Spanish Party, Vox, has garnered a lot of votes in recent times and seen their poll ratings soar by promising to deport all ‘illegal’ immigrants if elected.
The reality is that the farmers who exploit migrants and their labour, need them to stay in business. The farmers can hardly cope with the declining populations willing to undergo cheap, back-breaking labour and the effects of climatic conditions, such as the sub 50 degrees heat, they have to work in at the height of summer.
A Senegalese man who lives in Andalusia, Serigne Mamadou Keinde Diassaka, recently drew attention when he published a Facebook a video (seen more than 600,000 times) at six in the morning in a vineyard in Albacete. Responding to Vox’s right-wing rhetoric, he said: “Here’s what we immigrants do: work.”
Farmers like turkeys voting for Xmas
The farmers voting for Vox are no different to turkeys voting for Christmas. Whilst they’re not happy with the presence of foreigners from a different culture who don’t (in their opinion)fit into their desired aesthetics, they do realise that without the cheap labour they would hardly stay afloat, to talk nothing of the profit they’re currently making.
Two years of living in Andalusia brought home to me, a few home truths re the full impact of the Transatlantic Migration to Europe via the North African coast.
Cuevas, where we lived, has a very high population of illegal immigrants that work the fields. They live in rundown houses on the edge of the town. The squalor is very palpable. Some houses house over 15 occupants and sometimes even more.
The landlords collect rent and don’t bother to make the houses habitable as they know that their tenants will not complain to the authorities as a vast majority are undocumented.
Bringing Islam back to spain
Thanks in part to these immigrants, Islam is making a resurgence in Spain after hundreds of years of going into extinction following the Spanish Inquisition. This part of Spain was under Moorish rule for over 800years after all.
I vividly recall my first day at the local gym, where I caused a stir as everyone turned round to gawp as I easily stood out; the local immigrant population had no time for such “frivolities”.
This setup is replicated all around Almeria (a city in Andalusia); wherever you see greenhouses, there’s always an immigrant shanty settlement nearby to provide cheap labour. Sadly, for most of the young men and women they have no other option but to tough it out regardless of the outcome. Going back home is not an option as they would be seen as failures, but this is the least of their worries. Even of more concern is the deprivation, conflict, inequalities corruption and other conditions that drove them away from home in the first place.
Dying whilst attempting to cross the Atlantic Ocean is a price most deem not too steep to pay as subsistence in their impoverished home countries was non-existent. Another
serious driving force for massive migration we have seen in the past few years, is undoubtedly the conflicts that have displaced millions in Sub-Saharan & North Africa.
Terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and Boko Haram have wrought havoc across huge swathes of Northern Nigeria & North Africa (Niger, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya).
Across the sea in England, the produce from Spanish greenhouses abound in top supermarkets that pride themselves as champions of ethical farming and fair trade,
yet the exploitation of immigrants to ensure their supply, goes unabated in broad daylight.
The big supermarket chains have the clout to enforce changes in the working schedule of the greenhouses to ensure that they are in line with EU regulations and that the workers get what is due to them.
Meanwhile on a beach somewhere in Andalusia right now, newly arrived migrants are scampering ashore celebrating their arrival in Nirvana.
- Additional information from Wikipedia; theolivepress.es; Telegraph.co.uk; thelocal.es and ecfr.eu