Twenty pairs of shoes welcome you when you open the door to the apartment where an employee of the Camp Nou construction site lives – in the Collblanc neighborhood (L’Hospitalet de Llobregat) –. Mamadou He is one of the eight tenants of a house that does not exceed 70 square meters. “With the money I earn it is the only thing I can pay,” says the young Malian, 20 years old. Like him, the other workers working on the new Barça stadium interviewed by this newspaper share similar poverty conditions. “It is clear that it is not the life you expected in Spain, but you have no choice but to endure,” assumes Mohamed, who spends the night in an abandoned and dilapidated cabin in Manresa (Bages).
A large part of the Camp Nou construction workers have fled Africa or Asia, escaping wars and hunger, risking their lives on boats or putting them in the hands of the mafias. They have worked without a contract in the livestock sector, as day laborers, in the hospitality industry and in construction. They live in overcrowded apartments or in occupied houses. dilapidated without minimum hygiene conditions. They are barely aware of their rights, but they do have the obligation to support their families in their country of origin. That is why they are afraid to report their working conditions and lose their jobs.
A five-month investigation by EL PERIÓDICO has revealed the labor exploitation to which subcontracted companies subject their workers in the Camp Nou construction sites. But what are their lives like? Most of them live in poverty, despite working more than 50 hours a week. Their stories, told anonymously, reflect fear and fears, but also the double side of the coin of welcoming immigration in Spain.
Arrival by boat
Mohamed arrived in Spain by boat via the Atlantic. Started from Larache (Morocco) in a cayuco in 1996. Abdala repeated that trip in 1999 from Tangier. Mamadou, coming from small, He crossed in a cayuco to Canary Islands in 2021. Ibrahimwhich also did so in 2000, left from Dakar (Senegal). Everyone justifies it because they wanted “a better life.” “I dreamed of European life: here there are rights,” Abdala summarizes. Mamadou, furthermore, was escaping the war. “I was a farmer with my father in Mali, but the guerrillas attacked us… I just wanted to escape from there, live in peace and help my family,” adds the young man, in his twenties, who has obtained international protection in Barcelona as a refugee.
The Malian still remembers that his best friend died in his arms on the high seas. “We spent five days without water or food, the people couldn’t stand it and ended up dying next to me,” he says, with misty eyes. He confronted the ship’s commander and managed to prevent the body of his companion from ending up in the ocean. The boy is buried in a grave in the Canary Islands. He himself was the one who had to tell his mother. “It has been one of the most horrible days I have ever lived,” she says.
This young man left school at 8 years old. Like many of the workers at the Camp Nou construction sites, who were forced to work in their country since they were children. Very few know how to read in Spanish and even fewer understand the legislation, which makes them much more vulnerable to extortion. Abdala and Mohamed, the oldest, have worked for more than a decade without papers or a contract. One has been a day laborer in Almería and Zaragoza. The other has worked on farms and then in construction.
Extortions and accidents
Mohamed suffered a work accident on a farm in pigs in Sant Fruitós de Bages. She fell from three meters high doing a repair and an iron stuck in his leg. “I they paid 200 euros“They told me to be quiet and they didn’t call me again.” He neither had the right to leave nor managed to recover properly. Abdala acknowledges having been very hungry during the last years in Spain. “We don’t have money to pay for an apartment or for anything, just to eat,” says the man, who has lived in shanties and abandoned cars while he has been a construction worker in Catalonia. He now lives poorly in a squatted house in very poor condition.
Today, and after five months working on the construction sites, Mohamed takes off his work boots and his feet tremble. “They hurt me a lot,” she laments, after ten hours of work and a two more train ride to Manresa. Live in a house falling apartwhere there is no electricity or running water. He showers with bottles from the fountain among rubble that years ago was part of a wall. The kitchen is dirty and work clothes are hidden behind piles of trash. “I arrive so tired that I just want to sleep. And tomorrow the same,” says the man, who feeds on snacks and cans.
Sleeping on the floor and paying family expenses
Mamadou says he can’t take the conditions he lives in anymore. “I would like to have a room to myself,” he explains. Since he left the state shelter and asylum program, Share a room of two square meters with a fellow Malian in Collblanc. “It’s very hard, I can’t rest with another person by my side.” Sometimes, he says, he sleeps on the floor. Conditions very similar to those suffered by men from Pakistan or other Asian countries who also work at the Camp Nou. “10 people live in my apartment,” explains a boy from India who lives in Santa Coloma de Gramenet. “It doesn’t seem bad to me to charge a thousand euros a month for Barça’s projects: in a bar they paid me much less, without a contract, and I worked 12 hours a day,” he says.
To understand their history it is important to know the ties that unite them with their origins. They all owe a debt to their family. Every month they send them a small part of the little they earn. Abdala suffers for his daughter, to whom they must perform a eye operation, although At home they can barely afford the medication the girl needs. Mohamed has a diabetic child and every month he sends 500 euros to pay for the insulin he needs. Mamadou too send 300 euros per month to Mali. “47 people depend on me, at least this way they can buy rice and eat every day.”
They are all aware that this was not the dream life they thought when they arrived in Europe, but they assume that there is no escape. “If you report it, if you ask to be paid more, you lose your job and it’s even worse”explains Mohamed. Mamadou suffers in case he suffers an accident and those weeks his family cannot eat. “I can’t stop working, I already know that he is going to have to suffer. But in a while I will be better,” says the young man, who has been in Spain for two years, hopefully. Mohamed and Abdala, with more than 20 years in the same conditions, assume that this is not going to change. “We have to endure, because there is no other option. If you have a job you can survive. If you don’t have it, you don’t live. This is life in Spain for people like us.”