The conflict between Spain and Morocco endangers the return of more than 12,600 seasonal workers

The diplomatic crisis unleashed between Madrid and Rabat is affecting other much less visible, unrelated issues, that are key to the relationship between both countries. One of these issues is the return of the more than 12,600 Moroccan seasonal workers who participated in the berry campaign in the province of Huelva.

The workers' return should have started on Monday, according to the phased return plan presented by the main Huelva cooperatives to the Moroccan authorities. Morocco has kept its borders closed since March of last year so the seasonal workers can't go back to their country without their government's authorization; a fact that worries Interfresa, Freshuelva, and UPA, the three agricultural organizations that coordinate the hiring of temporary workers.

Strawberry businessmen had planned to charter two boats a week during the first two weeks of June and a third boat starting the third week of the month. Nearly 800 women would travel on each ferry and the return would be concluded in mid-July. The system is similar to the one used between December and March to bring the almost 13,000 workers from Morocco to Spain.

The spokespersons for Interfresa and Freshuelva - responsible for the contracts of more than 90% of this contingent - trust that the impasse will be solved. They also said that the experience of last year had prepared them to accommodate these women if they had to stay longer in the country.

Manuel Piedra, Secretary of Mobility and Migration of the agricultural union UPA Andalucia, is more pessimistic and blunt. "There aren't 7,000 women this year, there are 12,600 women," he stated. Piedra hopes that the Moroccan Government will relax restrictions and open its borders on June 10, which would allow resuming the Strait's normal travel conditions and let the temporary women return to Morocco on the ferries that leave from Tarifa and Algeciras, but there are no guarantees this will happen.

Sources from the Secretary of State for Migration maintain that no woman will be left in an irregular situation. The first permits expire at the end of summer.

Last year, Morocco's refusal to open its borders for its workers was on the verge of causing a humanitarian crisis, since the 7,000 women who arrived in Spain before the health emergency broke out had to remain in Huelva, without work and spending a good part of the income they had obtained during the season.



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