Trafficked, exploited, and sexually abused, some women migrant workers who leave Morocco for opportunity in Spain fall into a trap of abuse and labor exploitation.
Rabat – When Samira Ahmad (not her real name) left her native Morocco and got on a bus to Spain in April 2018, she felt a mix of pride and self-fulfillment. She had made the final cut of Moroccan women selected to join Spain’s prized strawberry industry as seasonal workers.
As she embarked on her Spanish journey to register as a migrant worker just miles away from Morocco, Ahmad told a Guardian reporter, she thought the opportunity was the happy ending she had been expecting, having struggled to make ends meet for herself and her family.
To Ahmad’s unpleasant surprise, however, the work and the environment she was promised were the total opposite of the labor exploitation and other inhumane treatment she and many other compatriots faced in strawberry fields in Spain’s Andalucia region.
“Before I left my home I was like a hero to everyone,” the Guardian article quoted the Moroccan woman. “Nobody in my village had ever had the chance to go and work in a rich country like Spain. But it has turned out to be the worst decision of my life.”
A final fight for reputation
Ahmad said she and other seasonal workers were mistreated, sexually abused, and exploited on a regular basis.
“Ahmad’s life is in ruins,” the article commented. “She is destitute, divorced and for the past 10 months has been living in hiding, surviving on handouts with nine other Moroccan women who – like her – claim they faced human trafficking, sexual assault and exploitation on the farm where they were hired to work.”
According to the news outlet, Ahmad and eight other Moroccan seasonal workers have filed a complaint with Spain’s Civil Guard, the military police.
The women put all their hope in that legal procedure, but they appear to concede that no substantial result may come out.
All they want, according to the article, is to have their names cleared so they can return home. Many of the seasonal workers say that their families have disowned them after learning about their experiences in Spain. The families think they work as prostitutes, the article noted.
“We knew we couldn’t go home because we still hadn’t been paid and we had to prove that the things that we had told the police were true,” said one of the women.
Little interest from authorities
In the meantime, both Spanish and Moroccan authorities have been nonchalant, even dismissive at times, in how they have treated stories like Ahmad’s.
According to the Guardian article, authorities in both countries have “downplayed” the extent of the tragedy the women report to have faced daily.
While the Spanish courts have been obstructing progress in the case, according to the article, Morocco’s employment ministry, responsible for the paperwork of Spain-bound seasonal workers, has played down what it sees as alarmist reports. According to the ministry, cases of abuse and labor exploitation are not as widespread as reported.
Like Ahmad, the Spanish women’s rights advocacy groups defending the cause of vulnerable seasonal workers appear to think that authorities from both countries would do little in such cases. They say the system is skewed against the most vulnerable populations.
“In Morocco they are deliberately looking for those who are cheap and vulnerable to do this work, namely rural women with young children who only understand Arabic, cannot understand their contracts written in Spanish or claim their rights. It is a rigged system,” said Alicia Navascues, a women’s rights activist.
Spain’s booming strawberry industry is its most important agricultural product. Each year, seasonal workers—almost all women—leave Morocco to work in neighboring Spain in an industry that is now labeled the “red gold” of the stuttering Spanish economy.
Over 20,000 Moroccan women are expected to join in this year’s harvest, the Guardian noted.
But Ahmad and her friends have a message to those preparing to embark on the Spanish journey: Don’t be lured.
“I didn’t think that such stories could be true in a rich country like this,” Ahmad said of instances when, as she prepared to travel to Spain, she would dismiss reports of sexual abuse and exploitation coming from the women who preceded her cohort.
Now that she experienced firsthand the stories she once ignored, Ahmad is an outspoken critic of what was once her most prized dream. She says she does not want others to experience the same plight as her and her friends. “I say to the women coming now, please don’t come. If bad things happen nobody will help you. Turn around and go home to your families.”