Exploitation and abuse of undocumented migrants

Written originally to a question in Quora as an answer to Are illegal immigrants being exploited by their bosses?


The whole idea of having a system that makes it so hard for immigrants to achieve the administrative permits to live and work in a country is the creation of a silent low-paid workforce, unprotected by most labour laws and in constant risk of violence, detention or deportation.

Those who benefit of this system are the owners of vast farmlands, the owners of restaurants, hotels and other places where undocumented workers are silently carrying out extenuating hours for a tiny pay.

Denying rights to undocumented migrants - no person is illegal, at most it would be their actions that would be illegal - makes them more vulnerable to all sorts of violence [1] and scams. They are charged tremendous prices to rent a room in a crowded home, as they cannot rent an apartment in most places. Landlords raise rents or force silent evictions under threats of deportation [2].

Instead of evictions, California landlords threaten immigrant tenants with deportations

The women have no support when they suffer domestic violence, sexual agressions or rape. Some bosses take profit of their fear of losing their only income and unwillingness to report to the police… they might even be deported for seeking help after being raped [3].

So, with so many civil rights denied, imagine how easy it is to exploit migrants in a precarious situation for certain people with a good social position and used to networking with the police and justice system. Capitalism is based on racism, it was during its early days with the colonies and it still is now, with semi-slave workers to fullfill the business owners’ aim of cheaper and cheaper workforces for the least desired jobs.

Take this case which became a nation-wide scandal in Spain just about a week ago, where unlike other occasions the women were able to file a case and talk with the press: they were hired through a Spanish company to come from Morocco only for the few months of the strawberry and other berries season. The women claim they had their passports taken from them and were subject to near-slavery conditions in the strawberry fields, suffered racist insults, and that the Spanish men supervising the fields forced them into having sex under threat of losing their jobs, and directly raped some of them.

Spain: Female seasonal workers are exploited
“An investigation has been called for by the Andalusia town council into the exploitation and sexual assault of female migrants employed in seasonal work after a piece of investigative journalism focused on the area. The migrants in question work in the strawberry fields in Huelva, but cases have been reported in Morocco and Italy as well.”

“Over 18,000 women, most of whom holding either Moroccan or Romanian nationality, arrive in the Huelva province to pick strawberries in the vast greenhouses of Andalusia, where a sea of white plastic covers fields from Huelva to Palos de la Frontera. Over 300,000 tons of strawberries are produced in the area every year. In 2017, Spain exported 600 million euros worth of strawberries.”
Immigrant workers are 'sexually abused and exploited' at strawberry-picking farms in Spain's Andalucia
“A MANAGER of a strawberry farm in Andalucia has been arrested after a group of his immigrant workers accused him of sexual abuse and coercion.”
“There have been repeated reports of labour and sexual exploitation in Huelva’s strawberry fields for years, but only now has an investigation been launched.”
Farm owners in Huelva say Moroccan strawberry pickers are called «prostitutes» by their bosses
“According to three farm owners in Huelva, everyone knows what happens to Moroccan strawberry pickers in the fields.[…] The three men accepted to speak because they «felt unfairly targeted by what others do in the fields», referring to farm owners who enjoy exploiting the women working in their businesses.”

When the managers heard that the women were talking with journalists and lawyers, they tried to send them all back to Morocco, forcing them into buses, but Spanish police was alerted and stopped this ilegal deportation of rape victims and possible witnesses.

Huelva Gate: Dozens of strawberry pickers are sent to Morocco as others report abuse
“More than fifty women in a strawberry farm in Huelva are believed to be sent Tuesday to Morocco two months before the expiry of their visas. Speaking to El Espanol, one of these women believes that the company is ‘getting rid of them’ before they report abuse.”
“‘They want to make us leave so that we do not report abuse, they want to get rid of us’, Fatima told the Spanish newspaper. ‘They want to take us out of the farms before others know about what happens inside’.”
“For the record, in Almonte also, hundreds of Moroccan women were held in a strawberry farm in Huelva, Spain, Sunday awaiting their deportation to Morocco. Local media believes that these women are being prevented from ratifying sexual abuses allegations against their managers.”

Here are some reports prior to last week’s scandal, also in the same area and line of abuse:

Rape in the fields - Many strawberries in European supermarkets are from the Spanish Huelva region. Sexual abuse of its female workers is rampant.
“She works on a strawberry farm few kilometres away and life there is hell: No kitchen, shower only once a week, one room for six women to sleep in. And then there is her supervisor, Abdelrahman, a man from Morocco. ‘He comes in the evening’, she says.
He has the phone numbers of all the women.’ He forces them to have sex with him. Every night with a different woman. ‘When you say no, he punishes you at work’, she says. Kalima is afraid of her supervisor, who has not been charged with a crime.”

“’Juan’, she spits out his name in anger, ‘shouts because we speak in Moroccan, because we do not know Spanish. He insults us constantly.’ Sometimes, Sabiha and her co-workers say, they are not allowed to shower for an entire week. With temperatures well over 40 degrees during the summer and hard labor in the fields, ‘this is a nightmare’.”

“Turning to the justice system seems impossible, because the women do not speak Spanish and have a hard time proving the abuse in front of a court. When asked about any statistics or ongoing investigations regarding sexual violence and abuse a local police officer in Palos de la Frontera answered: ‘Sexual abuse is not a thing of Spain’.”

“The court documents state that Martin, Carlos Ramon and Ambrosio would insult women with phrases like: ‘Bitches, we’ll send you back to Morocco. There in your country you’re starving’.
The workers were obligated to urinate in the field and sometimes physically assaulted by the men. One of the workers, Inmaculada, was hit on her legs with an iron bar. They were demanded ‘sexual favours’ in order to keep their job.”
All these excerpts are from Rape in the fields [7]

Arrests are starting and women from other fields are also speaking, while demonstrations and calls for support are carried out thoughout Spain - not easy to find links in English!

“[…]the Spanish authorities in the region arrested on Friday a 47-year-old man accused of blackmailing workers into having sex with their managers, says local newspaper Huelva Informacion.
The arrested, who works as a supervisor in one of the farms in Southern Spain, was released and will be awaiting his trial. […]
The suspect, who has Spanish citizenship, was allegedly connected to several cases of sexual abuse and misconduct.”

Yet the working and accomodation conditions of migrant field workers in Spain have been compared to slave work for many years. Almost every year some death is reported among the African migrant field workers due to unhealthy work or living conditions. Take this report by The Guardian in 2011: Spain's salad growers are modern-day slaves, say charities (article and short documentary) [9]
The Guardian's findings include:
  • Migrant workers from Africa living in shacks made of old boxes and plastic sheeting, without sanitation or access to drinking water.
  • Wages that are routinely less than half the legal minimum wage.
  • Workers without papers being told they will be reported to the police if they complain.
  • Allegations of segregation enforced by police harassment when African workers stray outside the hothouse areas into tourist areas.

Salad slaves: Who really provides our vegetables - Short documentary by The Guardian
These are the conditions in Spain, where I live. This is why I’m actively supporting the migrant resistance and fighting for the derogation of the laws and structural racism that allow this sort of exploitation.
It’s up to each one of us to investigate what our fellow citizens are doing to migrants in our areas, in order to reduce prices and continue a racist capitalist cycle.


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