Permanently temporary (passing time in a ‘plastic sea’)

Almeria, a coastal province in southern Spain, is the first stop for thousands of illegal African immigrants who come to Europe in pursuit of their dreams. Limited by social, economic and legal circumstances, they find themselves far from their visions of Europe with no choice but to stay and work in the surreal landscape of glimmering white plastic greenhouses—the ‘plastic sea’.

The largest greenhouse complex in the world, Almeria’s agribusiness is valued at over 1.5 billion Euros exporting mainly to France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

For over 20 years, the industry has been dependent on the cheap labour provided by the thousands of illegal immigrants who make the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea. Despite the fact that without immigrants the industry would likely not be economically viable as few Spaniards are willing to work in the fields, there has been very little effort to regularize working conditions and legal rights, and there is virtually no integration between immigrant and Spanish communities in the region.

Although most immigrants would like to leave Almeria, due to high living costs and police control in other parts of Spain, they are forced to stay until they can apply for their residence permit (a minimum of three years) or save enough money to move on.

Permanently temporary (passing time in a ‘plastic sea’) is the result of two visits to the region in 2009 exploring dynamics and contradictions in the lives of African immigrants passing time in Almeria’s ‘plastic sea’ while they wait for the opportunity to move on to pursue their dreams. Complicated legal procedures and extremely low wages mean they must stay longer than they expect and, despite their efforts, their lives slowly become more rooted as time passes. Whether they have been there for three months or thirteen years, they feel their situation is temporary, a step to bigger things.

This is a smaller edit from the book, which includes stories of experience from some of people featured.

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