Social Emergency

Couple suffocate to death heating the shanty they lived in in Montcada i Reixac

Events took place by the Besòs river, where about 500 substandard housing units are located

3 min
En Muner and Jessica heated a new infrahabitatge built a few meters from the bar they occupied until now in a settlement of Montcada and Reixac

BarcelonaOn Sunday Muner and Jèssica were to spend the first night in the new shack he had been building up for some time, 50 meters from the old tin building they had occupied until now by the Besòs river, in a settlement with about half a thousand substandard dwellings in Montcada i Reixac. It was made of more resistant materials to help them get through the harsh winter months. The couple reportedly burned some wood inside a metal container to heat the new home while the doors were closed and ended up suffocating. A brother of the man found the two victims at midday. Emergency teams were sent to the scene, but could do nothing to prevent these two new deaths as a result of severe poverty.

The Mossos d'Esquadra have opened an investigation to determine the causes of the accident. The investigators have ruled out for the moment the existence of indications of criminal action. At this stage, everything suggests that the two victims, aged 42 and 40, died from smoke inhalation.

Muner, originally from Tangier, had been in Catalonia for more than half his life. "He came to find his luck and look what luck he has found," said his brother on Monday. With Jèssica, a resident of Santa Coloma de Gramenet, they had squatted an apartment about seven years ago in that town, but when they were thrown out they ended up in the Montcada settlement. He had been collecting scrap metal for years, while his partner worked in a store. They had a two-and-a-half-year-old son, who is in foster care with his father's family.

The couple lived in a small space covered with tin sheets, but Muner had long since begun to build another substandard dwelling with more resistant materials about 20 meters away, which is the one the couple was heating when they died. They were "excited" because it was bigger, with more space to store the collected scrap metal and more resistant to the cold and damp.

The family –who will now try to repatriate the man's body– regretted this Monday that so far no administration has gone to the settlement to take an interest in the families and try to relocate them or offer them alternatives and help. This sentiment is shared by the neighbours. "The social services have never come here, only the police to warn us so that we do not make very nig fires. This is the frontier", complains Maria, claiming they live in no man's land and have been forgotten by everyone.

The settlement where a couple who burned wood to heat themselves in a shack died

"A slum in the metropolitan area"

The mayor of Montcada i Reixac, Laura Campos, has told ARA that this situation of poverty is not an isolated case and that in this area there are about 400 shacks on the left bed of the river and a hundred more on the other side. "They are growing and are already reaching La Llagosta," warned Campos, who considers it unacceptable that there is "a slum in the metropolitan area." The living conditions of these people are very precarious and, in fact, there is not even a census to know how many people live in this camp. In addition to housing, there are illegal workshops that scrap vehicles and carry out other unlawful activities, escaping all control.

"We do not shirk our responsibility, but we ask for help," explained the mayor. In fact, with the Consorci del Besòs they have drawn up a preliminary project to see how the problem could be solved. "Only the management of the waste product of the debris from all the shanties would cost about €3m," explained Campos. The municipality's approved budget for 2022 is €47.4m.

The settlement with about 500 homes where two people have died

The deaths in Montcada are another sign of increasingly chronic poverty in Catalonia, according to the Charity organisations. "These tragedies are becoming recurrent, and it is beginning to be normalised that in our society events like these happen," they emphasise in a statement in which they recall the death of four people in Plaça Tetuan in Barcelona.

"It has only taken 10 days to start 2022 with another tragedy caused by the lack of access to decent housing," the charities insist, who live closely the daily life of vulnerable people and the difficulties to access decent housing. "How many more deaths must there be before there is an urgent reaction?", they ask the authorities to address the root causes of these situations such as substandard housing, energy poverty, job insecurity, the black economy or administrative irregularity.