Cristina prepares a chickpea and chicken stew amid gusts of hurricane wind. The thermometer shows six degrees and several migrants are sitting in circles, warming themselves as best they can around small charcoal stoves. Some go barefoot: what little they had they lost in the Badalona ship fire just three weeks ago. Since then they have settled in this makeshift camp that will be evicted imminently by court order. “They even want to kick us off the street,” says Cristina, 40, who acts as an unofficial spokesperson for the camp. “Now where do we go?”
The occupied ship in Badalona overflowed during the pandemic: “Many new people arrived and we had nothing to eat”
The mayor of Badalona, Xavier García Albiol, has been trying for a few weeks to end this informal settlement that has been set up a few meters from the ship that caught fire on December 9. There are around 20 tents in the camp, protected by all kinds of cloth and tents, many of them destroyed after the bad weather of the last few days. Campers share what little food they have and contribute money to a common box to buy food. “Here we all help each other as much as we can,” explains Ousmane, a 33-year-old Senegalese.
On December 18 the City Council approved an eviction decree and on December 24 the resolution was published, which was transmitted to the campers. The inhabitants of the settlement assure that the council told them on Christmas night that they had 24 hours to leave. No one left and the City Council asked the courts for permission to evict them.
The magistrate accepted the municipal petition on Wednesday. In a car, the judge points out that the situation puts the health of the campers at risk. Reports from the Badalona urban guard who claim that there have been incidents in the camp are also attended to. The City Council has refused to make assessments and has not wanted to specify when the eviction will take place. “Legal services and Mossos are evaluating how to proceed from now on,” say sources from the Badalona town hall.
The inhabitants of the settlement insist that they have not had any problems with the residents of this area. As an example, they show all the food, pots, blankets and sacks of coal that the residents of the neighborhood bring them almost daily. Last Christmas day, a neighbor brought a pot of ‘escudella’ to the campers. “The neighbors are taking good care of us and no one has complained,” they say in the camp.
The last 24 hours have been a barrage of bad news for the inhabitants of the settlement. On Tuesday the death of a fifth migrant who lived on the ship was known. His name was Boubacar Hanne and after the fire he was admitted to the hospital. They released him and he settled in one of the tents because he had nowhere to go. After a few days it worsened again, returned to the hospital and died. According to the Badalona City Council, he had heart problems and had been infected with coronavirus. At the camp, spirits were low on Wednesday and some refused to leave their tents. “We have no information about the injured comrades,” pointed out Youssef, another of the inhabitants of the settlement. “We believe that more than five have died.”
“Before they evict us we are going to leave, we do not want to have problems,” says Ousmane. “The problem is that we have nowhere to go.” The migrants interviewed acknowledge that they have been offered housing alternatives, but explain that they are temporary and are far from the places where they collect the scrap metal that allows them to survive. “How do you want me to go to Barcelona or Sant Boi with all the junk?” Asks another of the inhabitants of the camp, who did not agree to reveal his name.
In the car, the magistrate indicates that only seven of the campers have accepted the housing solution that has been offered to them. It also states that social services have offered them clothing and advice to obtain duplicates of the documentation lost during the fire. The campers do not deny it, but all affirm that trust is broken with the City Council after Albiol’s statements a few days after the fire, in which he took the opportunity to request competences against the occupations.
Migrants insist that the last thing they want is to separate. As an example, Cristina points to the stew she is preparing on a charcoal barbecue. It indicates that each one has put in the money they could and that between all of them they make sure that no one is left without food. “If they separate us, we are going to die,” he explains as he covers himself from the cold with several blankets. Behind him, the migrants serve themselves hot broth in a cardboard cup to keep warm.
Ousmane says that a part of the migrants from the burned-out ship have gone to live in another occupied space a few meters away. The problem, he says, is that there is no room for anyone else. The older ones have settled in that space and the younger ones have set up camp. “Most of us who lived on the ship lost everything in the fire,” he insists. “Many of us have even lost our passports and now we are people without identity.”