The United Nations official censured Spanish authorities for allowing seasonal strawberry pickers to live in “inhumane” and potentially deadly conditions after three fires broke out in migrant shanty towns in Andalusia recently.
According to the southern region’s emergencies department, which reported the news on Twitter, the fires hit camps around the town of Huelva within five days last week, injuring at least four people.
After the incident, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Olivier De Schutter, claimed in a statement that local governments needed to urgently improve the “deplorable conditions” endured in the strawberry townships before people died.
“This reality of fires and inhumane conditions in the shanty towns cannot be tolerated any longer.”
Often dirty and dangerous, and lacking water, sanitation and electricity, such camps have been used as accommodation for Spain’s seasonal fruit-pickers for many years.
“The situation is deteriorating alarmingly each day, made worse amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” de Schutter explained.
On Thursday, the Spanish health minister Salvador Illa acknowledged that the living and working conditions of seasonal worker made such fruit-pickers very vulnerable to catching COVID-19.
Spain, after being one of the pandemic hardest-hit European countries with more than 28,000 victims, is desperately in need for seasonal workers who can go to Spain to support the economy and to prevent the fruit ready to be picked to go bad, after the very hot weather came with the summer in southern Europe.
However, even if the economy pushes for a quick reopen after a three-month lockdown, it is essential to maintain preventive and safety measures for every worker, as the country has registered 281 new isolated outbreaks, over a quarter of which began in work environments.