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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Thousands of Moroccan women trapped in Spain demand return home

Date of publication: 15 July, 2020

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Thousands of low-earning Moroccan workers in Spain are unable to afford flights home.

Morocco's reopening of its borders on Wednesday still leaves more than 7,100 citizens stranded in Spain and unable to afford a flight home, with airports the only way to re-enter the kingdom.

Those stuck in Spain’s southern province of Huelva are women fruit pickers who travelled from Morocco in January for the yearly strawberry harvest.

The North African state will only accept flights from Spain for now, which leaves the low-earning labourers who sent their earnings back to home unable to afford a flight back to Morocco.

"We are here without a job, we have nothing, the money we had we sent it to our family. We are out of money to eat, we need to go back. We ask [King] Mohammed VI to send someone to help us so that we can return," said Fátima during a protest the women staged last week.

"Our children are alone in Morocco, they have nobody to take care of them, we need to go back."

Read also: Seasonal Moroccan fruit pickers exploited, sexually assaulted in Spain

As their contracts ended in mid-June and July, employers, union leaders and rights groups warn that their conditions could result in a humanitarian crisis.

Moroccan officials in Spain have been allegedly negotiating "for weeks" with Huelva's authorities over the transfer of the group, according to national Spanish daily El Pais.

The regional authorities of Andalusia have given the workers free coronavirus tests and the Spanish government said it is in "intense" talks on the matter, the report added.

Moroccan farm workers protest demanding to be repatriated. (Mujereh 24h)

Around 100 women who were pregnant, had recently given birth, or were severely ill have been repatriated.

Reports have said certain landlords have extended their agreements of rent-free accommodation, but still require the Moroccan nationals to pay utilities.

The labourers, who usually save money by crossing through the Strait of Gibraltar, rely on their incomes from their work abroad to sustain their families for extended periods, so their inability to return home presents extra costs which they cannot afford.

Since 2001, the two countries have signed an agreement permitting seasonal visas for fruit harvesters, which will now be extended for the Moroccan women until September.

Conditions on farms which host foreign labourers have always been criticised by rights groups, as there have been repeated reports of poor living conditions.

"They are being eaten by mosquitoes, they have eczema on their skin, the mice are eating the food. There is even a woman who has decided to sleep under a wheelbarrow because she considers that it is better than in the house,” said Angels Escrivá, a member of the Huelva Mujeres24H feminist collective to El Salto.

The UN Special Rapporteur on poverty and human rights, Olivier De Schutter, called on Spain to "urgently protect thousands brought over from Morocco as essential workers in order to pick strawberries", saying the workers have been "deliberately" put at risk during the pandemic.

De Shutter added that the situation amounts to "forced labour", and the living and working conditions provided to the women "violated international human rights standards and domestic laws."

The Spanish government responded by saying they will "inspect working conditions of migrant workers", according to Reuters.

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