A few knocks on the door broke all the plans and hopes of Alae's family, a false name chosen intentionally by a young man who prefers to remain anonymous. When he opened the door, two private security agents asked him what he was doing in that flat, and how he had got in. "I told them it was my house and that I had a contract", he now recalls, once he has assumed that he was the victim of a scam that stole all the savings he had to start a new life in Catalonia.
Alae had arrived from Morocco just a couple of months before, in order to "see how things were" here; and to see if they had any chance to "improve life a little bit", he says. It was June 2018 and for a few weeks he stayed with a family he knew. All four of them, together with his wife and children, in one room. A small space for so many people. Since he had been able to save a little back home, putting together what he could from his work and his years as a footballer in a Tetuan football club, Alae figured he could afford to pay a cheap rent while he found a job.
Savings as a deposit
The man asked around, and a "fellow countryman" put him in touch with a "Spaniard" who had his "grandmother's flat empty". He went to see his wife, they were satisfied and, as the owner told him, he left a deposit of 2,400 euros and 400 euros more for the first month. All was put down in a contract, with a supposedly legal seal that gave him some confidence. The family settled down in a property in the Raval neighbourhood of Barcelona with total normality. On the 1st of September "the Spaniard" returned to collect the second instalment of the rent and Alae explains that he asked for a receipt for the conformity of the payments, but nothing more occurred.
The next day, with the contract, he went to the Barcelona City Hall and the family registered without any further problems, as it had already happened when they registered for the water bills. 24 hours later, two security guards slammed at their doors and asked him to pack his bags because the flat belonged to an investment fund. "I told them I had a contract, but there I understood that everything was false", the young man explains, who suspects that both the false owner and the other man were in cahoots. He hasn't heard from either of them since.
Trial in February
Hipocat 11 - the investment fund that is the "legitimate owner" of the flat - has reported Alae and his wife for illegal occupation of a house, and they were summoned back in April. The hearing has been postponed until February next year due to the pandemic. For the moment, the family continues to live in the flat, and has received no more visitors or has been pressured to leave, he says, but they have horrible anxiety. "I never wanted to squat it", Alae explains. "But we've been swindled and we can't stay on the streets with children". The family has not dared to report the two men who have allegedly swindled him out of "fear of the police". They also do not have a residence permit, and this obstaculizes a possible solution to their problem.
Alae is sitting in a room at the Casal dels Infants in Raval, the association where his children go in the evenings and which "accompanies" him to help him through the heavy bureaucracy. "In the Casal we see a lot of suffering with the issue of housing, but Alae's case is a first" says the family's social worker, who is calling for the regularization of migrants who do not have legal documents to be speeded up. Without a residence permit, the family cannot be attended by the municipal services or have access to the minimum vital income and, moreover, the NGOs - the only ones that can be approached - cannot manage all cases due to the numerous requests for help they receive.
The rights and humanitarian organizations denounce that due to not having residency permits, they enter a vicious circle that is very difficult to break because in order to obtain any social benefits, a minimum of three years of residence are required. Alae and his family still have a few months of invisibility left infront of them.
The man works as hard as he can: he paints houses, sells in markets, or works in the construction industry, in such precarious situations that sometimes he gets "15 euros for a full day from sunrise to sunset", he says. They survive on few benefits from NGOs and have already had to stop paying for water. "All I want are the residency permits in order to be able to work", he exclaims, admitting that the situation is also affecting his children's emotional level.