Clean up 'inhumane' migrant fruit-picker camps, UN official tells Spain after fires

MADRID (Reuters) - A UN official censured Spanish authorities for allowing seasonal strawberry pickers to live in “inhumane” and potentially deadly conditions, after three fires broke out in migrant shanty towns in Andalusia.

The fires hit camps around the town of Huelva within five days last week, injuring at least four people, the southern region’s emergency situations department said on Twitter.

Local governments needed to urgently improve the “deplorable conditions” endured in the strawberry townships before people died, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Olivier De Schutter, said in a statement.

“This reality of fires and inhumane conditions in the shanty towns cannot be tolerated any longer.”

Often dirty and dangerous, and lacking water, sanitation and electricity, such camps have been used as accommodation for Spain’s seasonal fruit-pickers for many years.

“The situation is deteriorating alarmingly each day, made worse amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” de Schutter said.

On Thursday, the health ministry acknowledged that their living and working conditions made fruit-pickers especially vulnerable to catching the coronavirus.

Spain is one of the European countries hardest-hit by the pandemic with more than 28,000 fatalities.

Since ending a three-month lockdown in June it has registered 281 new isolated outbreaks, over a quarter of which began in work environments.

Reporting by Clara-Laeila Laudette; editing by John Stonestreet