With the hood covering his head and a scarf around his neck, Abdul watched this Monday morning as an excavator demolished the shanty town where he has lived since 2015 on the outskirts of Níjar (Almería). She did it from the shoulder of a road taken by the Civil Guard and with a plastic bag with clothes at her feet. “They are my only belongings. We don’t know where we’re going to go now”, said the thirty-something, who works in the area’s greenhouses growing tomato, pepper and zucchini. This is what the dozens of compatriots who, like him, were expelled this morning from the settlement known as El Walili, located next to the highway to San José and where around 450 migrants resided, also do. The eviction, approved by the courts, has been an initiative of the Níjar City Council, governed by the socialist Esperanza Pérez.
A large device of the Civil Guard took over the surroundings of the settlement around six in the morning. More than fifty agents, supported by a helicopter from the air, had the mission of “guaranteeing people’s safety,” according to sources from the Armed Institute. Numerous members of the Níjar Local Police also arrived in the area so that the demolition of the first substandard housing could begin, as planned, at eight in the morning. What started, however, at that time, was a fire. It was dawn and the flames soon lit up part of the camp while razing several shacks. The firefighters put them out quickly, but the fire made it easier for the security forces to evacuate the compound, who maintained that it had been started by the inhabitants of the settlement themselves. Serigne Mbaye, Senegalese activist and deputy of the Madrid assembly for United We Can displaced to Almería, had another vision: “What a coincidence that it started there at that time. It is a clear strategy so that people have to leave because of the danger it entails. This is not human. They exploit us immigrants, use us and throw us away, ”he added, visibly angry.
Around nine in the morning this Monday, an excavator began to destroy the first shacks, built from pallets and plastic. He did it while about twenty Civil Guard agents formed a chain with the aim of preventing the inhabitants of the settlement from accessing or interrupting the work. On the road there were women in dressing gowns, men carrying butane canisters and suitcases. Half a hundred migrants watched, like Abdul, from the side of the road, under the rain and with intense cold, how their houses disappeared under the action of the pickaxe. Around him were blankets, a handful of bags of clothing, a scooter, and some bicycles. “They kicked us out very early, we have been able to get only a few things out. I have clothes and nothing else. Now we don’t know what will happen to us,” said Lamil, another Senegalese who has lived in El Walili since 2020. “We live here because we work here, in this area, and we don’t have a car,” insisted his friend Mamadou.
Most of the camp’s residents, some 450 migrants according to the estimates of the associations that work in the area and some 240 according to the municipality, have been leaving the settlement in recent days. The city council had already notified the eviction and the social entities had warned them of what would happen this Monday. Many of them have been locating by their own means in other similar spaces, such as nearby Atochares and Barranquete, also made up of dozens of substandard housing. Those who remained in the camp this morning, waiting for an alternative place to live, did not trust the words of the social worker who invited them to go to an emergency center set up in an industrial warehouse in the neighborhood of Los Grillos, a few kilometers away. According to a municipal statement published last Friday, the migrants will later be referred to the “transitory housing solutions” program. At the moment, 62 homes are still being built in Los Grillos thanks to funding from the Junta de Andalucía.
“For now I can only tell you that you have space in the emergency center. There is room for everyone, including food, for a maximum of two months. This could be a way to start and then, case by case, we will see what possibilities there are for each one”, the municipal worker told them before the incredulous gaze of the migrants, the majority of whom were young men from Senegal, although there were also families. arrivals from Morocco. Ismail, one of them, preferred another option. “You can’t live in the centers, there are too many people and bad conditions,” she assured while the municipal services employee insisted: “If this center fills up, another one will be set up. You can come, but it is your decision, it is voluntary, ”she told them. She convinced fifty, who got on a bus around 10:30 in the morning, while from the windows they saw how their old homes were falling due to the action of the excavator framed by a rainbow.
The associations that work in the area have denounced the lack of dialogue from the Níjar City Council to address this eviction and the absence of housing alternatives for these and hundreds of other greenhouse workers from Almeria who reside in settlements such as Walili. “All the parties must come together to develop a housing plan like the one that was agreed upon in the year 2000 and never came to fruition. The situation now is much worse than then because there are many more people working in the greenhouses, whose surface area does not stop growing,” said Fernando Plaza, spokesman for the Association for Human Rights of Andalusia (APDHA), who believes that the city council is getting what he wanted: “Remove the settlement that is most visible, the one that is next to the road and spoils the views of tourists. The rest are still there, ”he insisted. “It does not seem that, throughout the process, they have been considered as adult subjects and protagonists of their history,” denounced the Secretariat of Migrations of the diocese of Almería in a statement a few days ago.
The judicial order that approved the eviction and demolition of Walili states that “the shacks are in a dilapidated state, without a municipal building license” and that “they represent an imminent danger to people, due to the risk of collapse, fire and explosion and electrocution, there are also cesspools with discharges of waste and fecal water into the subsoil, which imply risks of falling and entrapment”. The document also included the fires that occurred in the settlement in May 2021 and March 2022.
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