A couple of hours ago Mohamed, Bilal, Soufiane and his group of friends, all of them Moroccans, have finished their day at the pit. They have been hot and thirsty. But they are happy. The boys – almost beardless, thin, usually bright-eyed – they are day laborers in a strawberry farm next to the Doñana National Park, about three kilometers by road from the hermitage of El Rocío, in Almonte (Huelva).

These kids work seven hours a day for 41 euros, although in reality it is 39 because two euros are returned to the company that has hired them. Is what he charges them daily for occupying a place in a brick bunkhouse where they have a bed, toilet, shower, kitchen and washing machine. It is a cabin that tries to resemble a home, although not by far.

There are two rows of these barracks in the middle of a field surrounded by huge farms with greenhouses. The boys, when they give directions to this reporter to get here, they call them “las casitas”. Now, in the middle of the afternoon of this Thursday, when EL ESPAÑOL visits them, some of these young people gather to chat while others, still exhausted from hard work, they rest on their loungers after eating and showering.

They know that tomorrow they will get up at dawn and that they will spend seven hours hunched over cutting those juicy red fruits that within a few hours of jumping from the branch – a couple of days at the most – will reach the refrigerators of half of Europe.

Some days they work overtime. At most, three a day. They charge them at between seven and nine euros each.

All these kids crossed the borders of Ceuta and Melilla in an irregular way one day. They were minors when they did it. 15, 16, 17 years. The Administration of both Spanish autonomous cities took charge of them. Until they were 18 they were classified as ‘unaccompanied foreign minors’, MENAS. They were given a roof, food and training.

When they came of age, they were issued a temporary residence permit and left on the street. If they couldn’t find work, sooner or later they would end up expelled. Look for your life, they were told. And in those they walk.

This week, VOX has once again pointed them out on a billboard for its electoral campaign in Madrid. “A MENA, 4,700 euros per month. Your grandmother, 426 euros of monthly pension ”. The message was direct, accusing and false, as this newspaper reported this week. In short, it was said that these boys would be taking money that could be used for the welfare of the elderly in Spain.

Four of the 140 young Moroccans who have been ex-ward this year are working on strawberry harvesting in Huelva.

A. L.

It was not the first time that the far-right party led by Santiago Abascal accused them in a prejudicial and false way. Other times he has singled them out as rapists or thieves and acting in a pack. Always, maintaining that their origin was the cause for which they would act that way. But Mohamed, Bilal, Soufiane and company deny that harmful image that VOX wants to convey of them.

“We come to work, not to be criminals,” explains Mohamed Achoroaa, 21, the oldest of the group. “The color of my skin, my place of birth or my accent does not have to mark me for life.” The boy, with curly dark hair, has been working on strawberry picking for five months.

“What we want is to find a life for ourselves,” adds 18-year-old Bilal Lamsayah, one of the newcomers. He has been working here since mid-March. “Let Abascal, anyone from VOX or people who think like them come here for 39 euros a day. They wouldn’t last long, I assure you”.

Bilal Lamsayah (in the background) and Mohamed Benakka, in the room they share inside the barracks provided by the company.

Bilal Lamsayah (in the background) and Mohamed Benakka, in the room they share inside the barracks provided by the company.

A. L.

Money home

The eight young Moroccans with whom the reporter speaks assure that each month they send a remittance of money to their families. Mohamed, the oldest of the group, sent 350 euros last month. With this money, he helps his parents, who do not have work, and his four siblings to survive.

“Here, even if the salary is low, I earn in one day what I could earn in my country for a whole month working longer hours,” he says. Other guys send what they can: 100, 150, 200 euros …

The barracks in which these day laborers live – most of the workforce in the strawberry harvest is foreign, mainly of Maghreb origin and Eastern European countries – are located in the middle of huge farms that are only delimited by perpendicular roads. From a bird’s eye view, it would be like looking at a map of a forest full of vertical and horizontal paths that intersect.

People who stay in this type of facility are several kilometers from the nearest urban center. To do the shopping, they have to go in a group in a car. This group of eight young Moroccans does not have one. The company they work for gives them a van every 15 days so they can go to a supermarket or get a haircut at a barbershop.

“We are isolated,” they say. For them, going out for a soda, meeting other young people or going to eat a hamburger is a chimera. However, at no point in the interview did they complain.

This group of eight young people ex-ward by the Administration live in barracks next to a strawberry farm.

This group of eight young people ex-ward by the Administration live in barracks next to a strawberry farm.

A. L.

A ‘saving’ decree

In April of last year, almost at the beginning of the pandemic and with the country confined, the Government published a decree allowing foreigners in an irregular situation in Spain to work in the fields.

Taking advantage of this situation, three NGOs -Amani, from Granada; Familia Solidaria para el Desarrollo, from Chiclana (Cádiz) and Voluntarios por otro Mundo, in Jerez (Cádiz) – negotiated with Freshuelva, one of the employers’ associations in the strawberry sector, to incorporate young ex-tutees into the harvesting campaign.

In 2020 they got 80 contracts. In the 2021 campaign there have been 140. Only four of these guys have been fired.

“The pandemic opened a job door and an opportunity for them,” explains Michel Bustillo, delegate of Volunteers for Another World, an NGO that has five reception floors, with 42 places in total, for exMENAS.

“We spoke with the Ombudsman and he made a recommendation to the Ministry of Social Inclusion, Social Security and Migration. Thanks to that decree to the boys who signed a contract They are granted a two-year residence and work card”.

VOX electoral poster denounced by the Prosecutor's Office for a possible hate crime.

VOX electoral poster denounced by the Prosecutor’s Office for a possible hate crime.

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In 2020, four companies joined the agreement reached with Freshuelva. This year there have been nine. “I’m happy,” adds Bustillo. “The working conditions are tough but the kids are responding very well. At 18 years old, as most are, whoever is in those fields holding on shows that they are an example and that they come to look for a future, not to harm anyone ”.

Michel Bustillo stirs when asked about VOX and his last electoral campaign in Madrid against MENAS, the same one that a court in the country’s capital has refused to withdraw. The Prosecutor’s Office denounced him for the alleged commission of a hate crime.

“They are provocative. May Abascal accompany me one day to one of those farms or may Rocío Monasterio listen to them! [candidata de la formación verde a presidir la región de Madrid]! Then the concept they have of these guys will be changed. It makes me very angry that they take advantage of the vulnerable and that they try to confront the poor against the poor. They are mean. They are creating the image of a monster of someone who is not”.

Another four of the 140 ex-ward Moroccans who work in the strawberry harvesting campaign.

Another four of the 140 ex-ward Moroccans who work in the strawberry harvesting campaign.

A. L.

“Am I doing that much wrong?”

Night begins to fall over the strawberry fields of Huelva. Here, in this town of barracks, a slight wind blows that invites you to take shelter. The boys cover themselves with sweatshirts, although several of them still wear shorts and flip flops.

Bilal Lamsayah tells that he is Nador. He has not gone to Morocco for two and a half years, just the time that he crossed to Melilla. At the age of 18, after leaving the juvenile center where he lived with around 900 other boys, he moved to Almería to try to find work and have his residence permit extended. He spent a month and a half working without papers in a restaurant, where he washed dishes.

Later, Bilal tried his luck in Malaga and later in Lleida. In Catalan lands, he heard about a certain Michel Bustillo and his reception flats in Jerez de la Frontera, where he arrived in October last year. On March 11, he moved to Huelva to start working on strawberry harvesting. The boy considers that there is a part of Spanish society that is “openly racist”.

“I left my house in search of a better future. My dream is to study and move to England. I want to live there, I love that country. It is unfair for someone to be judged on the color of their skin or what others from the same country do. That is xenophobia. I am in Spain to earn a living and have a future. Am I doing so much wrong? Tell me, am I doing so much wrong? “

The question still echoes in this reporter’s head.

Ayoub Laggla cleans the dishes in the sink of the construction hut where he lives, this Thursday.

Ayoub Laggla cleans the dishes in the sink of the construction hut where he lives, this Thursday.

A. L.


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