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The Moroccan female workers suffering in the Spanish strawberry farms: "sexual harassment and forced deportation”

2018-06-24

Recently, the Moroccan society has been shocked by the scandal involving the Moroccan workers in the strawberry fields of the Huelva district of Andalusia province, southern Spain, as they have been exposed to harassment and sexual assault, which even reached rape amid the silence and skepticism of the Moroccan Ministry of Labor.

According to local Spanish media and human rights organizations, a number of Moroccan female workers have been sexually assaulted by their employers and a number of Spanish harassers have been arrested and interrogated.

work of an agreement with the Moroccan Ministry of Labor, which was implemented in 2001.

Under the agreement, the Spanish government required the Moroccan government to employ married women with more than two children to ensure their return to Morocco, however, they did not set conditions on pregnant women.

The suffering of working women in the strawberries’ farms

The Spanish feminist organizations, such as “Mujeres” group, which is active in the southern of Huelva province, revealed the violations that happened in the farms, justifying the fact that working women have not filed complaints against their aggressors, as most of them are illiterate, they speak only Arabic and they came from rural areas. All these factors make them unable to communicate well.

On the other hand, a number of Moroccan workers broke the silence through their statements to “El País”, the Spanish newspaper, revealing the violations and sufferings they have been through after months of silence for fear of being expelled, forcibly deported or subjected to retaliation and abuse by their families and husbands.

Some workers who were sexually harassed told what happened to them in a video published by the newspaper and in which they recounted how a Spanish businessman broke into their room in the strawberry farm and tried to force them to have sex with him and how they resisted his harassment.

Fatima, a pregnant woman in her seventh month, said that she had been harassed by her” Spanish employer”, expressing her fears about her future unknown fate in case of her deportation to her country.

Fatima shed tears, saying, "I am afraid to go back to Morocco, my relatives and my husband’s family will sure kill me, I want to go back after settling this case and after proving my innocence, making everything clear.”

A number of Moroccan workers showed that 10 workers gave birth to their children in the Spanish strawberry fields, after they left Morocco as seasonal workers during the last months of their pregnancy, which raises another problem about the employment of pregnant women in poor conditions, in addition to the issue of harassment.

Although a number of Moroccan working women have been encouraged to file cases of sexual harassment and abuse against their employers, a number of "victims of harassment" have refused to testify to the Spanish police for fear of being expelled and deported which was confirmed by the Spanish parliamentarians, who talked in their interventions during the Spanish Parliament debate on the issue of seasonal female Moroccan workers.

The punishment of victims

"The fears of the Moroccan working women were not in vain. In fact, a strawberry plantation in Huelva expelled 400 workers from their fields immediately after filing a collective complaint by the Civil Guard accusing investors and employers of violating the terms of contract and sexual exploitation within the strawberry fields.

The Andalusian Workers Union (SAT) said that “1998 Donana” company deported Moroccan women from their fields without prior-warning and before the expiry of the contract. They were transported by buses from Huelva to the Green Island city and then deported through boats to the Moroccan city of Tangier.

Facing all these developments, the Moroccan working women took part in a protest to protest against their violations and poor working conditions.

The Moroccan seasonal workers, protested also outside the Spanish Civil Guard headquarters in the Huelva area, raising banners and asking for the punishment of the persecutors instead of deporting the victims.

The unions called on the Spanish government to withdraw its public aid from the agricultural enterprises that violated the legal conditions of seasonal workers, including the company "1998 Donana” instead of penalizing the working women by deportation.

The Spanish feminist organizations asked the government to provide care for the Moroccan working women and criminalize their physical and sexual exploitation by executing the local laws and implementing strict penalties for the "employers" involved in sexual assaults.

The Spanish feminist organizations and a number of professional associations in Spain called for the halt of deportation campaigns, which are violating the international and local labour laws.

Human rights activists reveal the truth while the minister is skeptical

While the Spanish media and trade unions, as well as, the feminist organizations in Huelva, such as “Mujeres” organization for abuses against Moroccan workers are revealing the truth and the suffering of the Moroccan working women, the reaction of the Moroccan Ministry of Labor was shocking.

The Moroccan Minister of Labor, “Mohamed Litayem” initially denied the charges, saying that his ministry issued an official statement rejecting all these accusations, based on the observations of a ministerial committee that had previously visited the Moroccan workers in the fields of Spain and heard their testimonies.

The Minister considered that Morocco was able to provide 17 thousand jobs for women workers in this context and cannot allow such rumours to destroy such big project, according to him.

The Moroccan minister said that he will call for the dispatch of a parliamentary commission of inquiry into what he described as the "allegations” which were reported by the Spanish press about the sexual abuse and ill-treatment of the Moroccan women, categorically denying that neither the consular interests nor the ministry have received any complaints from the Moroccan working women of Spain.

However, the minister's position changed completely after that many complaints have been filed by a number of Moroccan workers in the Spanish courts and after that the Spanish police arrested a number of the accused people and investigated them, where he found himself in a big trouble.

The minister responded in a parliamentary session discussing “the Moroccan working women case”: “I did not deny that workers were blackmailed and what I said earlier was about only one case which was spread by the German media.”

However, the minister has deliberately acquitted the perpetrators and accused the victims in an attempt to distance his ministry from taking the responsibility and reduce the possible repercussions saying: "The Moroccan women's work in strawberry fields in Spain is not new and the process has been done over the past years without problems.", and he added: “I do not deny that female workers are sexually harassed. There are 15000 workers and it is maybe about just two or some cases.”

In a second attempt to disown the responsibility, the Moroccan Ministry of Labor called on workers to refrain from being silent in case of abuse and to rather report such cases "without giving clarifications about the measures to be taken to protect them at work in the Spanish strawberries or after their deportation.”

Amid the silence of the government, a Moroccan human rights group, “the Northern Observatory for Human Rights”, decided to carry out a parallel investigation to the judicial investigations made by the Spanish authorities, in order to find out the real situation of the Moroccan working women, and the shortcomings of the Moroccan government in protecting these women, especially towards the paradoxical statements made by the Moroccan officials and their Spanish counterparts