It’s estimated that up to 4,000 people are living in conditions of absolute poverty across Almería province. Mainly illegal immigrants, they form an unknown number of shanty towns or chabolas (shacks) concentrated mainly in the Níjar – Campohermoso or El Ejido areas.
Almería Acoge, together with Médicos del Mundo, are two charities that are heavily involved in helping residents of these shanty towns gain access to the very basic services that we take for granted, such as emergency health care or access to foodbanks. Across Campohermoso alone, they estimate there are 63 shanty towns.
Councils are vaguely supposed to help the homeless, but in practise, nobody does and nobody wants to. Cash strapped councils don’t have the resources to be putting people up for the night, and regional government accommodation is very scarce.
Officials underestimate the total
Níjar council say they are only aware of around 15, but admit they lack the resources to track these itinerant people.
An official survey of the whole province carried out last year counted 232 illegal constructions housing 769 people, but the census-takers confessed that many illegal immigrants refused to take part in the survey.
Níjar has recently come under greater pressure from an influx of immigrants as concerted efforts by councils in the west, lead by El Ejido, have seen shanty towns there razed and immigrants pushed out. Many head east, to the towns of Níjar.
Wladimir Morante from Médicos del Mundo say they are working with some 15 shanty towns across Níjar helping more than 500 immigrants, mainly from North and West Africa, access basic healthcare.
Sr Morante said: “We see on a daily basis horrific and complicated scenes because people think they will be arrested if they go to a doctor. But worse is the state of helplessness these people are in. Many have never got over the trauma of reaching us. They come with high hopes, leaving everything and everyone they love behind, and the grim reality they are faced with breaks them”.
Farmers union COAG denied they were responsible for the problem.
A statement said: “No farmer will offer work to an illegal immigrant, because the fines make the risk impossible. An employer can be fined up to €60,000 per undocumented worker found on the premises and if three are found in a year it becomes a penal matter with a possible jail sentence. Instead, the Authorities have been ignoring the plight of these people for years and just keep passing the blame”.
Gracia Fernández of the central government agreed the regional authorities needed to do more. She said: “Across Andalucía there are 676,000 immigrants, and the entire housing budget is just €500,000 – not enough to solve the housing problems of a single council”.