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Hidden reality of extreme poverty uncovered in burned Badalona warehouse

Irregular migrants living in highly vulnerable situations, as highlighted by tragic fire


10 December 2020 04:15 PM


Cillian Shields | Barcelona

The reality of extreme poverty in Catalonia has been brought to light after a fire in a Badalona industrial unit overnight left at least three people dead. 

The warehouse had been abandoned and occupied for years by migrants living in irregular situations, and it is estimated that up to 150 people could have been staying in the complex on the night of the deadly fire. 

Those who survived the flames did so by escaping from the building through the windows. 

For a long time, the irregular migrants survived by collecting pieces of scrap and other discarded items, but police and neighbours say that in recent years the occupants had been consuming and selling drugs and engaging in theft and prostitution. 

The unit and the situation of the people living in it has been known to both authorities and neighbours for some time already, with Badalona mayor Xavier García Albiol accusing the occupants of causing problems of coexistence in the neighbourhood in the past. 

However, after a confrontation in August between the local mayor and some of the people residing in the warehouse, Cristina, one of the occupants of the building, defended the community, saying that most of the residents want to progress in society and not engage in crime and delinquency. 

She urged locals not to point the finger at the irregular migrants as the source of all problems in the area and highlighted the extreme poverty of the undocumented migrants who have few options for how to survive. 

“Who wants to live here? Do you think we want to live here? No, not at all,” Cristina explained to reporters in August. “Some of the people here have children, they go to sleep crying because they don’t have anything to eat in the morning. They wake up and ask, “what do I have to drink?’” 

Regardless, the neighbours of the local area still believe that the attitude of the occupants was hostile and generated insecurity. Although the building had been abandoned for more than a decade, the president of the neighbours association of the area says that only in the last two years have the problems grown, leading to insecurity shooting up. 

Different approach needed, says govt

In the wake of the tragedy, Pere Aragonès, Catalonia’s vice president acting as the head of the government, lamented the extremely vulnerable situation of the migrants living in the unit and assured that the administration would offer social services, accommodation, and medical and psychological help as needed. 

Chakir El Homrani, the minister for social affairs and families, pointed out that people living in undocumented situations are in hugely vulnerable positions. He also believes that administrations must approach situations like that of the Badalona warehouse, with large numbers of people residing there, differently to “more classic” cases of homelessness. 

"We will not solve it if we do not go to the root of the problem, which is that they are undocumented," El Homrani said. “It’s up to us to work and find an answer in the short and long term,” he added.