GENEVA (24 July 2020) – Local governments must immediately improve deplorable conditions seasonal migrant workers endure in shanty towns around Spain’s strawberry townships before people die, a UN expert said today.
In the past week, three fires in the informal settlements in the municipalities of Lepe and Lucena del Puerto, in the southern province of Huelva, have destroyed the workers’ only alternative accommodation when they arrive in Spain. Local governments have so far ignored the more than 170 people now left out in the open. Some have lost their papers and belongings and are even more vulnerable, said Olivier De Schutter, the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.
“These incidents further highlight the urgent need to regularise the working conditions of migrant workers and thus to ensure decent working and housing conditions,” De Schutter said. “Local administrations, agricultural employers and companies need to seek in an urgent and coordinated manner a solution to end the situation of degradation in which seasonal agricultural workers live.”
In June, the Special Rapporteur called on the authorities to ensure that migrant workers were guaranteed conditions, including access to adequate healthcare, that meet international standards. A month later, the situation is deteriorating alarmingly each day, made worse amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This reality of fires and inhumane conditions in the shanty towns cannot be tolerated any longer,” the expert said. “Local governments have remained silent for too long and need to provide now a timely and adequate response.”
De Schutter welcomed ongoing investigations by the Defensor Del Pueblo, the Spanish national human rights institution, after last week’s fires. “The Ombudsman is giving visibility to a neglected humanitarian problem and to a situation that needs to be solved,” he said.
The expert has been in contact in the past month with the Government of Spain and concerned companies on these issues.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.