Julius Suh Assah is from Bafut, in northwestern Cameroon. Since his arrival in Spain in 2005, he worked in construction and as a cleaner for the Madrid Metro until 2011, when his temporary contract was not renewed: “Things went wrong there and I had to change course.” He tried his luck picking oranges, but paying for a flat with the unstable salary of a day laborer was not easy. And then he heard about “The New House.”
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The New House is, says Suh Assah, the “place to go when things don’t work out”. A center located in Sagunto (Valencia) and managed by the Espiga group together with the day laborers themselves, which seeks to support the seasonal workers who come to the town each year to pick oranges.
Faced with the increase in the arrival of migrant day laborers seeking to work in the fields in 2005, the neighbors acted and enabled an old parking lot for trucks. “They had nowhere to sleep, many lived in shacks,” says Vicente Calabuig, who has been helping with the management of Casa Nueva since 2012 and with the paperwork to obtain residence permits for those who need it.
Since then, it has been a key place for day laborers. “People know her by word of mouth. There is no other place in Spain like this. It is unique”, assures Calabuig. Currently, it has capacity for 70 people. According to space workers, most of those who need their services come from Northwest African countries. “Above all, from Mali, Cameroon, Guinea and Senegal,” explains Rebeca Andreu Carbonell, in charge of coordinating tasks at La Casa Nueva.
“We have no other option”
Those who pass through La Casa Nueva are between 18 and 64 years old. Some have no choice but to stay for years, but most come and go. The temporality and instability in their work also means that they do not stay in a specific place for too long. In La Casa Nueva they can stay throughout the year, but the greatest influx is recorded at the time of collection. They hope that this work will be “something transitory”.
Baradji is from Mali and arrived in Spain in 1998. He has lived in the center since 2012 and suffers from various leg injuries. He claims they were caused by overwork. “They don’t give me any help,” he laments.
We work five days a week, but we quote one”, criticizes Julius Suh Assah
The work causes Seydou “profound tiredness, such as lower back, kidney or knee pain,” he recounts exhaustedly by phone. “The worst thing is the long days in the sun,” she points out. After decades of work in the field, he says that he has picked the fruit for better and worse companies, but the most complicated have been the stages in which he has not had papers. He hangs up quickly: “I have to get back to work.”
“Many businessmen are aware of our situation and take advantage of it,” criticizes Julius. “They think we’re stupid for being immigrants, but what we lack are more options.” The same temporary worker denounces some irregular practices of the companies for which he has worked. “We work five days a week, but we quote one. We spend many hours ‘in black’ in which we are paid 5.50 an hour, even less than the minimum wage”, criticizes Julius. The Cameroonian has just written a book in which he describes his life: ‘My primitive life in polygamy’ (Red Circle Publisher).
“Being an immigrant there is always labor discrimination. Parties with points of disadvantage if they know that you have jumped the fence or come in a canoe, “explains Julius
Since his arrival in Spain, Julius claims to have suffered indirect discrimination. “They want you to leave, but they treat you badly so that you decide not to come back. Parts with points of disadvantage if they know that you have jumped the fence or come in a canoe.
“They no longer call you ‘shitty black’, they question your work. I know that most of us work well. We can’t afford to slack off,” she explains. “If you are a migrant, foreigner and black, everything is complicated for you.”
However, your labor is necessary. And businessmen, he says, know it. “We do a lot of jobs that other people don’t want.” “Needing money and people knowing it makes them look at you differently,” she lamented, while acknowledging that if he was offered “almost any job,” he would accept to pay the rent for his current home. “We don’t argue or claim more for fear that they won’t call us back to work.” These situations pushed hundreds of organizations to promote the ‘Regularization Now’ campaign, with which they have been asking the Government since the beginning of the pandemic to grant papers to all people with irregular residence in Spain.
A few months ago, the platform began a collection of signatures to bring to Congress a Popular Legislative Initiative (ILP). The Ministry of Inclusion, which rejects a massive regularization, is working on a reform of the immigration regulations to make access to the labor market more flexible for foreigners.
Irregularity and temporary labor hinder the residence permits of migrants. “As it is temporary, we are not offered contracts that allow us to regularize our situation and get the papers,” explains Julius.
For Seydou, regularizing his situation and getting the papers has been very complicated. “I have been trying to get them for nine years. It is a process that gets tiring, ”she laments. To Wague, who arrived from Mauritania two years ago, this process seems impossible to achieve.
To overcome these obstacles and advise them, the staff of La Casa Nueva provides information on labour, health and bureaucracy. It also provides training courses to improve your CV, Spanish classes, support in the organization of cleaning and cooking groups, first aid courses and awareness days with schools in the area.
“Whoever needs it can come. Among immigrants, we have to help each other”, emphasizes Baradji. As for why there are no women or minors, Rebeca Andreu clarifies that they can take advantage of “other types of aid” and they seek to reach “where the administrations are not doing it”.
No activity or course is carried out without the assembly’s approval and the people welcomed are the ones who organize themselves. “You don’t act without their approval. Our presence serves to accompany them, but it is not commanded”, explains Rebeca. “In the assemblies they decide everything,” emphasizes Asencio.
In this project, solidarity goes beyond the neighborhood. Thanks to entities like Light Humanity either Social Water, the quality of the facilities has improved in recent months. Light Humanity, have supported the community of La Casa Nueva through the collective financing of the solar installation, technical training for residents and the start-up of a photovoltaic system with storage in the device to supply the lack of electricity supply. Before their arrival, they used a gasoline generator that provided them with electricity for a few hours a day. “With its arrival we have solar energy 24 hours a day”, explains Rebeca Andreu. As for Social Water, it has provided a community water purification system.
For a few days, at La Casa Nueva they have been giving training courses to expand the electrical installation they already have in order to expand services. “The idea is that they can then work on photovoltaic installation teams,” explains Arturo Rubio, head of Light Humanity’s access to energy programs.
“With the aim of improving their employment opportunities, part of the proceeds goes to education scholarships. Several residents will be able to afford to stop working in the field and will participate in an advanced course as photovoltaic installation assistants”, details Arturo Rubio. “The solution has to be comprehensive and not a patch. It is essential that the educational part is considered. Only then will we achieve real change,” says Rubio.