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Dark Summer: Inside The Harsh Living Conditions Of Ibiza's Seasonal Workers

A severe housing shortage means that many of those who come to serve the millions of tourists on the Spanish island can't find a decent place to sleep. Some wind up sleeping in their cars or on flea-infested mattresses. The spirit of Ibiza as an easy-going meeting place is fading away.

A beach services worker walks along the beach behind holidaymakers.

A beach services worker patrols the beach as holidaymakers enjoy the area, Ibiza, Spain. 7 May 2021.

Esther Cabezas

IBIZA — It's a world-renown paradise off the coast of Spain, with more than 2 million visitors arriving each year. But now, during the summer high season, the island of Ibiza has become a hell for the many people who work to serve the rush of tourism in hotels, restaurants, markets, shops, parking lots and airports.

The workers say the situation keeps getting worse, in particular due to the lack of affordable housing and the unavailability of sufficient housing resources provided by companies to accommodate their staffs.

More and more, the seasonal workers who come to the "Beautiful Island" to earn a decent salary — as is also happening on the nearby island of Mallorca with caravans — have to rely on their imagination, explorer skills, or simply making do to earn a much-needed income for their survival and that of their families throughout the year.

If you take a walk around Ibiza, you will soon find parking lots, some well-hidden and many of them near workplaces, filled with cars serving as living spaces, camper vans, old and new caravans, improvised camps in wooded areas, half-built buildings filled with mattresses, people sleeping on the beach.

Each worker finds their own way to make it through the season, if they manage to do so. In this report, we have spoken with some of those in this situation who have kindly shared their stories.

Victoria, looking for normality

Victoria (a pseudonym) has been coming to Ibiza for 10 years, working sporadically around the island. The last two years, she decided to work the entire season. "I used to come with my vehicle and stay at the campsite if I was here for a short time, but they are so expensive, around 900 euros per month, and as I'm alone, I can't afford it. Moreover, you have to book in April or March, and then you have to set up everything yourself. My option has been to come, since last year, with my large car. I manage it very well, arranging everything in a compact way, and I lead a very healthy life. This is a must because housing is completely impossible. You rule it out immediately. I prefer to endure this way."

To make it through the season, Victoria has her tricks: a good latex mattress, buying pre-cooked organic food, fermented vegetables, seeds, miso envelopes, and above all, keeping everything compact and well-organized. "Order is essential for me," she asserts. "As for hygiene, you have to sign up at a gym and go there to shower. Also, I take many baths in the sea."

The situation gets complicated, she tells elDiario.es, if she gets sick: "Being sick is tough, you suffer. Thank goodness, last year when it happened, I had shade, my privacy, and the forest for whatever I needed. I hope I don't get sick again because now I don't have a place like that. I hope it doesn't happen to me this year because I wouldn't know what to do. I have sometimes stayed in a rented caravan in a parking lot, and nobody said anything. It depends on the parking lot, it depends on the patrol that comes. You have no certainty. They might come and tell you to move your car or give you a fine."

You may call it an adventure, but this isn't the reality. This is not living well.

However, the woman, who is in her 30s, always tries to be in beautiful places with good views, although she admits that sometimes it's not enjoyable because she is alone and fears for her safety. "I don't want to think about it, especially in a place like Ibiza, but it crosses your mind. I always lock the car, but you still feel a bit insecure. Sometimes I stay there thinking, Where should I go? Where will I sleep tonight? What if some crazy people come?"

Victoria explains that psychologically, it's tough: "Although you take it philosophically, because I'm doing what I love, it's inhumane. Sometimes I wonder why I'm here. It's discomfort, uncertainty, insecurity... You may call it an adventure, but this isn't the reality. This is not living well. By the second week of August, I'm already overwhelmed, and when I get home to the mainland, I'm amazed. I have a bathroom, fresh water, a kitchen counter, everything seems enormous to me; but in reality, it's not. It's a stark contrast."

Economically, it is worth it, but Victoria highlights that all the people who work to maintain the tourist services, should be able to access a normal quality of life.

She wonders why they don't set up a zone of "tiny houses" on the island for people who come to work."We are needed on the island for everything to function, to serve tourism. I don't understand it. It's a reality; we're not here for leisure. People are attracted here because of the service opportunities available.They always complain that we live in our cars. Last year, a girl told me she shared a studio with another person and she even had to share the bed. She was very overwhelmed. It's only natural, how could she not be? It's inhumane."

Waiters in striped t-shirts prepare drinks at a rooftop bar

A waiter serves drinks to guests on the rooftop terrace of the Hard Rock Hotel Ibiza, Sant Josep De Sa Talaia, Spain. 11 August 2023.

Clara Margais/ZUMA

Mohammed, one last summer

"I can't stand the living conditions. At 14, I came to Spain on a small boat from Morocco. I am 23 now and have been working on the island for two years, but I don't know if I'll come back. Look at all the insect bites I have!"

We are in the middle of a wooded area on the island of Ibiza.The heat attracts flies, mosquitoes, and fleas around an improvised campsite with a new and large tent where several men sleep on white sheets. Next to it, another colleague lives in his car. They have various kitchen utensils and a small camping gas stove where they cook, and their clothes are hanging on a rope tied between two trees.

One of the men who has the day off agrees to talk to us; the others are at work in a hotel very close to the campsite. Mohamed — a fictitious name — is very friendly and from a middle-class Moroccan family from the west-central part of the country, from Kenitra, near the capital, Rabat.

His family never understood why he decided to embark on such a dangerous journey: "They have businesses and tried to dissuade me. But I was sure, I wanted to make my own way, and at the age of 14, I got on a small boat with 72 other people. We spent three days at sea until we arrived."

Mohamed eventually moved to Valencia, where he lives and works all winter, coming to Ibiza in April and staying until October.

The young man earns around 1,600 or 1,700 euros as a waiter in a hotel, but accommodation is not included; he has no choice but to live like this. "In Valencia I have my own house and work in maintenance. Here, they ask for 1,200 euros a month to rent a house, and you have to pay two months in advance. This is impossible. That's why we live like this. It's very hot. We can wash our clothes at the hotel, shower there, and they provide us with food, although we cook here at night: vegetables, pasta... something for everyone," he says.

He explains that they live with tranquility, although they know that being in this forest is prohibited and they risk a fine. Mohamed claims that this is the last summer he will work on the island. He's tired of sleeping in his car.

Wilson, with his Ibizan son

We head to the Hotel Federation of Ibiza to discuss this situation. Its manager, Manuel Sendino, tells us that each establishment solves the problem as best they can, "by providing rooms in the same hotel, renting apartments or entire buildings, whatever accommodation is available."

However, it is evident that they cannot find enough resources. Near the hotels, we can find concentrations of vehicles in nearby parking lots where workers who have not been provided with decent accommodation live.

Some say they prefer to live in their vehicles rather than in a shared room or a basement, as Martin, a young man in his twenties who worked last season at one of the most famous hotels on the island, tells us. Workers from a hotel in Cala de Bou assure us that those directly employed by the establishment are provided with accommodation.

The appeal that Ibiza had before as a meeting place for citizens from all over the world no longer exists.

However, those contracted through temporary agencies are not given this option: "They are sleeping in their cars, those who have them, and the others wherever they can. Many sleep on the nearby beach. After exhausting work days, how is it possible that they don't have a place to rest?" says an outraged hotel employee who does not want to reveal her identity.

Wilson works as a gardener, although he studied Fine Arts in his home country. He says he is disappointed with the island and what it is becoming: "A place for the rich, but without any charm. The appeal that Ibiza had before as a meeting place for citizens from all over the world no longer exists."

He has to constantly move from place to place to avoid problems with the police: "I've heard they give fines of 700 euros. That's all I needed, to get a fine. I don't understand why I can't be with my vehicle and sleep inside whenever I want. It's my property," he says. "I am not a criminal; I am a family man who needs income that I earn with my sweat. It's a really unpleasant situation."

Wilson has searched for several places where he can rest in the shade because the heat is intense. "You come across many vehicles in the same situation as yours, driving around, and you might go to a spot that's already occupied. My work is tough, and I need rest, to clean up and eat well. For the time being, I'll keep going like this. But it's incredible that I, who have raised a family here, whose son is Ibizan and goes to school here, have to go through all these inconveniences. The Ibiza that I knew and that so many people loved is no longer."

Wilson bids farewell as he walks off with his dog toward the forest: "Tonight is a family dinner..."

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Longyearbyen Postcard: World's Northernmost Town Facing Climate Change — And Russia

The melting of the sea ice in the Far North has accelerated in recent years. The Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard has become the focal point of the environmental drama gripping the Arctic as well as the geopolitical tensions it is causing there, with Russia in particular.

A statue of a coal miner stands in the center of the photos with houses surronding it, draped around their shoudler is a Ukrainian flag. The environment is snowy and the sky is white from clouds.

A Ukraine flag placed on a statue of a coal miner in the center of Longyearbyen

Steffen Trumpf/dpa/ZUMA
Laura Berny

LONGYEARBYEN — The Longyearbreen glacier, which once unfurled to the sea, is now a shadow of its former self. Only the name of Longyearbyen’s Isfjorden now conveys the idea of something frozen.

“Last January, during the polar winter, the temperature was between 0 and 5 °C. When I went for a walk by the fjord, I could hear the waves. This was not the case before at this time of year,” says Heidi Sevestre. The French glaciologist fell in love with Svalbard as a student, so much so that she now lives here for part of the year.

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Compared to Siberia, Canada’s and Greenland’s High North – the Arctic archipelago, located just over a thousand kilometers from the North Pole – has historically benefited from a slightly more benign climate despite its extreme latitude. Temperatures here range between 5 °C and 15 °C in summer and usually not below -30 °C in the coldest of winter. This relatively “mild" weather has its origin in the Gulf Stream — the marine current which rises up from the Caribbean and runs along the west coast of Svalbard.

But the situation has now changed.

“There has been a lot of talk about the rise in atmospheric temperature for at least 20 years. But in the past three years, ocean temperatures have also risen significantly. This is what is causing the increasingly rapid retreat of the ice pack,” explains Jean-Charles Gallet, a glaciologist who has worked at the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) since 2010.

“The sea ice acts like an air conditioner for the ocean, so the more it decreases, the more the ocean warms up. This causes a chain reaction which ends up accelerating the warming process,” adds Eero Rinne, a Finnish specialist on the topic and a researcher at the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS). Rinne is working on the CRISTAL sea ice satellite mission, slated to go live in 2028 as part of the European Space Agency’s Copernicus program.

Beyond the alarming disappearance of glaciers and ice packs and the threat to polar bears (of which there are still around 300 in the archipelago), global warming is also causing cracks in the infrastructure of the territory, which is covered by permafrost. Landslides are increasingly frequent, and all recently constructed buildings in the region are on stilts.

“It used to rain very little in Svalbard, but now it is getting wetter and wetter, which is weakening the soil,” explains Hanne Hvidtfeldt Christiansen, a Danish-Norwegian scientist and specialist on permafrost at UNIS.

Norwegians kept a low profile about Svalbard's growing crisis, until 2017. That was the year when the Svalbard Global Seed Vault was flooded, less than 10 years after its foundation. The facility, dug near a mine in Longyearbyen, the capital of the archipelago, was built to preserve more than a million seeds from a possible cataclysm. The disaster didn’t affect the seeds but left a scar in people’s minds. Even this close to the pole, permafrost is thawing.

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