Wide Angle

Huelva Gate : Moroccan strawberry pickers send a message to Mohamed Yatim

In May, several Moroccan women broke their silence, speaking out against alleged sexual and labor abuses in Huelva’ strawberry fields. Yabiladi was able to contact one of the Moroccan farm workers who were able to flee a farm in Southern Spain and lodge a complaint against her alleged aggressor.

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Weeks after she managed to flee the farm where she used to work, a Moroccan strawberry picker spoke to Yabiladi about her ordeal. Hosted in a small village near Huelva, the woman had the courage to share her story and send a message to the Moroccan authorities.

Refusing to reveal her name and age, Yabiladi chose to name her Hanane. The latter was with ten strawberry pickers when we contacted her. They were happy and relieved as they gathered around the phone to speak to Yabiladi.

Working in the fields

It is their first time working in Spain. They decided to let Hanane speak on their behalf as she was the first one to leave the farm and speak out against abuse.

Hanane told Yabiladi that when she knew she was going to work in Spain, she was very happy. When these women were hired through an ANAPEC program, they were told that they would work 6 hours a day and get 40 Euros in exchange. They were promised that companies would take care of housing, food and transportation.

It was an appealing offer for them to the point that they used all their savings to apply for visas and pay for the transportation fees. Once in Tarifa, they were received by a Tangier-native, who told them they had to go through a 15-day training before starting work, says Hanane.

In the fields, six women share a 12 meters squared room, she explained. They had bunk beds and many of them could not even sleep there. Toilets and the kitchen were located far from where they lived. «From day one, we had a feeling of dissatisfaction», she said.

Without receiving the above-mentioned training, Hanane and other women were taken to the fields. Once there, they had to work for 12 hours and without the help of the necessary equipments, they were supposed to pick 5 kilos of strawberries daily.

More than that, Hanane told Yabiladi that they have not signed any contract and that they do not even know what the terms and conditions are.

Now, these women claim having been «sexually assaulted» and stress that they can prove it.

«Managers targeted the girls that were the most vulnerable, promising that they would house them, feed them and ensure their stay in Spain, but they have abused them after all. Some of them accepted that but others were trapped and had no choice. They were taken against their will to the woods. Some of them had abortions but many did not dare speaking out because they were blackmailed».


Facing the truth

In the fields «exploitation is a thing even though we are in a democratic country, slavery is still practiced», says Hanane.

Several Moroccan strawberry pickers have been courageous enough to denounce alleged abuses while others decided to cut it short and returned to Morocco. «Pretending that the strawberry picking season has ended, some farms forced these Moroccan women to go back to their country», says the woman who is housed currently by the Andalusia Workers Syndicate (SAT).

Speaking to media on Tuesday, Minister of Employment and Vocational Training Mohamed Yatim said that 140 women denounced the complaints lodged in Huelva, insisting that they were not subjected to sexual abuse.

Commenting on that, Hanane said that the women who signed the petition have come to Spain for years and that they «tried to make others do the same thing» and comply with the rules. «Some of them do not even work with us».

On the phone with Yabiladi Hanane couldn’t hide her disappointment, pointing at the way the Moroccan government dealt with their situation. «We felt deceived. What do they want from us?», she angrily questioned. «Nobody cared about us, no one came to help us», she shouted.

Speaking about Yatim, Hanane urged the minister to «come to Spain, to the fields, to see what is really happening there».

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