How Coronavirus Ruined Mallorca I ARTE Documentary
Due to Covid-19, there have been no tourists on Mallorca for months, and the economy has collapsed. Many Mallorcans have lost their jobs and have no income. If no one helps me, I don't know what to do anymore. Desperate families occupy empty shops to avoid homelessness. In their desperation, they steal water and tap electricity lines. At least we're out of the cold, the children don't have to freeze.
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the rate of unemployment in Mallorca has skyrocketed. Many have sought help from Ascensión Maestre. She founded the association SOS Mamas 10 years ago to provide for people in need. A year ago, volunteers were caring for about 3,000 people in need. That number is now over 10,000.
Everyone needs a hot meal. Imagine: the moment you don't even have the basic necessities to live, you're starving, you'll become aggressive, you'll steal food. There's nothing left to lose. As well as food, Ascensión often provides consolation.
Single mother Nieves is asking for help for the first time and is emotionally overwhelmed. Hello, give her a bag of potatoes, please. I need some onions in a bag, please. Thank you. Here, you have onions now. There you go.
She has a young daughter whom she is raising alone. Last March she lost her job because of the coronavirus crisis and her father died shortly after. He'd been supporting her and her child financially. Nieves Massa was always too ashamed to come here until now. But the 35-year-old sees no other way of supporting herself and her 6-year-old daughter.
You have no food in the house and your child asks you for a banana or a glass of juice and you can't give it to her. I can't even remember the last time I went to a café, how long my daughter has waited for a cup of hot chocolate. My child begs, and I have to tell her, "We have nothing today", and the next day, we have nothing, just nothing to eat.
They're hungry. To be clear, they're in desperate need of assistance. Meanwhile, as we speak, for every 100 people who ask for help today, about 30 are in the same situation as her. Ascensión assembles a support package for the single mother. Later, the trained nurse will visit Nieves in person. She knows from experience that the young woman probably needs more than just food.
What sets us apart from others is we try to really listen to people. I'm concerned with people's mental wellbeing, you know? Of course, people need food, and basic supplies. But they're also suffering mentally because they've lost their jobs. They've lost all stability in their lives. Emotionally, they feel lost and overwhelmed, often because they have small children.
There are so many different facets. Nieves used to earn enough money at a small tobacco stall. Today she's happy that her daughter Miriam can have lunch after school with a family friend.
Hello! Hello! - Everything was fine! - Thank you! Bye! Bye! How are you? How was school today? Good. Shall we head home then? Yes! The pandemic has hit Nieves hard: not only did she have to give up her business: with the death of her father, went her financial support as well. She's since used up her savings. She is increasingly unable to meet her daughter Miriam's needs. What happened to the school photos? I took them, I thought you were paying the 20 euros, but you didn't pay. I can write a note in your homework book.
I want them. And we ask that they give us a little time. - You don't want to give them back? - No. Maybe we can pay next week. I have to make excuses.
Because... the children just don't understand what's going on. They just see that everyone else can pay for their photos. And Miriam wants to be like all the others. I always have to say "no" to everything. Always no, tomorrow no, "Another day, darling". And she's still a child,
but she tells me: "You always put it off until tomorrow, "but tomorrow never comes". Nieves, formally self-employed, isn't entitled to welfare benefits. She's actually due 430 euros in social assistance, but has been waiting months for her application to be processed. In her desperation, she's asked friends and neighbours for help.
But they too have fallen on hard times. I'm just scared. If no one helps me, how can I go on? I have no income and no help from the state.
I don't know what to do. If SOS Mamas didn't fill my fridge, I'd have nothing. In 2020, the number of tourists fell by more than 80% due to the pandemic. A disaster for the island, where around 1 in 3 jobs is reliant on business from holidaymakers. Homeless people are now a more common sight. Bricklayer Gabriel Valls lost his job due to coronavirus.
Due to the economic downturn, construction projects have stopped. He's also a regular at Ascensión Maestre's soup kitchen. Hello, good afternoon. Hi Gabriel, how are you today? How's the little one? Great. He's so sweet! How old is he now? Just five months.
Five months! Take all this here. Is that enough? That's great. Thank you. Gabriel has to feed two small children, aged three and four, as well as a baby.
I'm taking cocoa and biscuits with me. The boys will be happy about that. Then I need vegetables, and I really need milk. The little ones like to drink milk with cocoa. It's enough to keep us going: with my wife's bit of unemployment money and the help we get here, we're able to get by.
When Gabriel was no longer able to pay the rent, he was evicted. To avoid becoming homeless with his family, he swiftly occupied this empty bank branch. The neighbours immediately called the police, who seem to have turned a blind eye to illegal squatting in the city. It used to be a bank. This branch stood empty for three years.
Rents have risen so much that you can't find a flat for less than 700 euros. And I can't afford 700 euros, there are five of us. And so I had to break into the bank and make a home here.
When you end up on the street with your children, when you don't know where to put your baby, when you don't have a roof over your head, that's really tough. My wife and I were in real trouble. Gabriel gathered furniture that had been thrown out and set up a makeshift home in the bank with his family. At the beginning, they had to manage without light or running water. How are you, kiddo? Good morning, how's my buddy? It's Daddy. Did you see the light? Hi honey. You must be hungry.
I got some food from SOS Mamas. They gave us two big bags. See? I'll see to the baby. The children suffered a lot at the start.
They were scared and wanted to go back to our old flat. They grew up there. To be honest, they were all miserable to start with. They cried a lot, especially the 4-year-old.
His little brother less so. At least here we're out of the cold and don't have to freeze. Fransisca has set up a makeshift bedroom in the former office of the branch manager. It's 2 p.m., the 4-year-old is still sleeping. The kids no longer go to kindergarten, play all night and sleep through the day.
They've no structured life any more. Hey, kisses, time to get up. The family only has Fransisca's monthly unemployment benefit of 400 euros. She worked as a saleswoman before the crisis. Gabriel, as a bricklayer, had no fixed contract and thus no entitlements.
The 31-year-old tapped into the power line and hooked up an old oven from the scrap yard. At least SOS Mamas helps us. And the social worker drops by occasionally. Otherwise I'd have to go out and find food. I don't know what I'd do then. Steal or something.
I swore to myself that I wouldn't steal anything from anyone or do any other illegal things. Mainly because I don't want my children to be raised that way, and see me acting in an unlawful way. Gabriel has tried looking for work. And has continually tried to find a new flat. But without a fixed income, the family has no chance on the housing market in Palma.
There's been little support from the state since the outbreak of the pandemic; most offices have been closed to the public. Telephone appointments are difficult to get. Those affected often have to wait for weeks. We hardly get any help. I asked for social housing months ago, but there simply isn't any, for anyone.
The housing situation is bad, really bad. Rent prices are a disaster. High rents and low incomes. The state agencies are overwhelmed by the number of applications.
Families like Gabriel's are left to fend for themselves for now. Ascensión Maestre founded SOS Mamas when she was actually in need of help and consolation herself: after a heart operation, she was given a maximum of five years. But the trained nurse decided to fight and to help others. Today, 10 years after her operation, she heads up the largest private aid organisation. I only have a limited time to live. The doctors gave me only five years.
But at 45, I didn't feel like dying, as you might expect. I wanted to do something meaningful. It's definitely selfish of me: I'm perhaps the happiest person in the world, because I feel people's joy when they realise help is still available. Because many have long since given up hope. I feel happy because I can dedicate my time to people.
I'm needed. The now 55-year-old also makes home visits to those affected. This afternoon she's visiting Nieves Massa. Hello. Good afternoon.
I'd like to chat with you a bit. How are you? Please come in. Nieves lives with her daughter in a 40-square-metre space. Her financial situation is precarious, and the father of 6-year-old Miriam is also currently unemployed and cannot pay alimony. This is for your baby. Thanks so much! You're welcome. And this too.
Sit yourself down. Yes, then we can get these masks off, right? I've been worried about you since you came by for food this morning. And that's why I came by. My father died in the middle of the coronavirus crisis and I've been here home alone 24 hours a day with a small child, trapped.
I didn't know what to do with her. She needs the internet for her schoolwork or to watch some cartoons. But I don't have the internet anymore and I don't have a TV. What do I do with her all day?
I feel terrible. I'm devastated. The 35-year-old has not paid her electricity bills for months. This alone has resulted in over a thousand euros of debt.
It's been horrible. I keep waking up at night to see if the lights still work. I live in fear of them cutting off our electricity. It's no way to live.
I think you can only imagine it if you really live through it: I ask myself several times a day: what am I going to do today? Without a cent. With no family, no job. How do I get through the day? She doesn't even ask for money. She asks for work. She is proud, she wants to survive this crisis on her own.
She wants to get ahead, she doesn't want to let herself down. And she's not doing it for herself, she's doing it all for her daughter. And it's also about the fact that her daughter's development is at risk, she's being left behind and no longer leads the life the other children have. Of course, she asks me for things I can't pay for. A few days ago, all the kids in her class wanted to go to McDonald's.
And my daughter was crying so much you can't imagine. I told her we don't have a car. "Then let's go by bus". But I can't even pay for a bus ticket. Ascensión will refer Nieves to a therapist. SOS Mamas also provides psychological help if needed.
Take care. - See you soon. - See you soon. She's lost control of her life.
It's not slipping away from her, it already has. Because of the pandemic, her life has been destroyed. She wasn't born into poverty, she has been shattered, and it will take a lot to rebuild her. Mallorca currently has one of the highest Covid-19 infection rates in all of Spain. Restaurants are closed, private gatherings between more than one household are forbidden, and masks must be worn in the street.
The crisis is increasingly hitting the middle class, too. Ascensión is seeing more women and men in her clothing store who probably wouldn't have worn used clothes in the past. The people who are now on the list of those seeking help have mostly lost their social status. People who considered themselves middle class and are now slipping into the lower class. The middle class as we know it is visibly disappearing.
This cardigan. I think my daughter will like it. Is there anything else that you like? As a non-profit organisation, SOS Mamas relies on donations of money, goods and clothes. Often from private individuals. The pandemic is like an avalanche that suddenly hits you, sweeps you away.
That's how it feels to me, it comes out of nowhere, like a blow, you have almost no chance to react. I haven't had time to organise more food. Or other things to alleviate hardship.
And it's going to get worse, that's what I think. At the end of 2020, the unemployment rate was 18.2% compared to 9.9% at the end of 2019,
doubling to 90,000 cases, the sharpest increase in the whole of Spain. Of 1.1 million inhabitants, around 300,000 live in "relative" poverty, according a study of the University of the Balearic Islands. That's almost 30% of the population. Freelancers, the self-employed, small entrepreneurs and day labourers - in many cases, they've lost their livelihood. Gabriel Valls has run out of water.
So today he tapped the hydrant in the street, during the day on this occasion. The neighbours don't want him using the main supply and have threatened to call the police again. The only solution the 31-year-old is left with is the illegal one. I'm really embarrassed. I'd rather have running water too. I go out at night so people don't see me.
I'm ashamed and I've never had to do this before. Tapping a hydrant outside. It's humiliating - for me at least. Maybe others don't care. The bricklayer took the washing machine from his old flat. Necessity is the mother of invention.
It'll need fresh water in a second, so I have to refill and collect the dirty water. Then I have to top it up again, then it spins. And the remaining water runs out. Gabriel is trying to use the water efficiently. The dirty water is later used to flush the toilet. The bank has filed for eviction.
The family could soon be back on the street. It was always clear to me that I didn't want to harm anyone. I'd never have occupied someone else's flat, let's say, a pensioner who can't defend themselves, or a family. I wanted to occupy an empty space so as not to hurt other people. To be honest, I don't have a guilty conscience about occupying the bank. But I need a long-term solution.
If we get kicked out of here, I'll have to occupy another business. I'll look for something similar, and that's how it will continue from one place to the next. I need a permanent place to live that I can pay for.
A roof over the children's heads, a nursery for their toys. Do you understand? The family rarely leave the house, conscious of peering neighbours, and afraid that they may not be able to return to the branch. Gabriel doesn't want to harm anyone personally. But for his family, he's willing to cross lines and break laws. I'm tapping into the power line from the streets.
Of course it's theft, but I wanted to use the line from the house, even install an electricity metre and pay for it. But the neighbours don't want me to connect to the power line here in the house. What do I do? I need water and electricity to live, for the kids. The family led a normal life before the pandemic. With jobs, a flat and an income. Gabriel and Fransisca fear the authorities will take their children from them due to their living conditions and place them into foster care.
It's a constant, daily struggle making sure they have food, that they don't lack anything, that they have clothes or even small treats. It's loads of small things. But the situation is getting more difficult every day.
Especially because of the pandemic, the cases are going up and the crisis will continue to worsen. Gabriel and Francisca hope that with the return of the tourists the situation for them and their children will eventually improve. At the moment, they can't rely on state assistance. Nieves has been waiting in vain for her regular social assistance and for the promised emergency financial aid of 225 euros.
The state should actually provide some kind of emergency aid for people like me who have nothing left. But no money arrives. It's almost impossible to reach anyone at the council. It took me over a month to get a social worker on the phone. The offices are closed. As a self-employed person, I have no right to unemployment benefits anyway, even if I've never received benefits.
They just won't give me anything. The highest Covid-19 warning level is in force here these days: Restaurants are only allowed to sell takeaway. Shops have to close at 8 p.m.
A night curfew comes into effect from 10 p.m. There's no work anywhere, you can't do anything. It's all like over here, everything is closed. Shops have no more customers, can't pay rent and have had to close.
I can't find a job at all for this reason. I've tried, I've asked everywhere, there are no jobs. There's no chance. Nieves has only 97 cents left in her bank account. So she wants to try to sell an old monitor at the pawnshop. - Hello. - Hello. I have this...
computer monitor I'd like to sell. Can I see your ID, please? I can offer you six euros. - Six euros? - Yes. There are already newer LED monitors available. Can you go any higher at all? That's the best I can offer, honestly. In the past months, the 35-year-old has already sold everything that can be converted into money: TVs, DVD players, a PlayStation.
The monitor was one of the last things that had any value at all. This is for the household budget. Six euros. And tomorrow I have to see if I can pawn something else to be able to buy food, and so it is every day, day in, day out. What can you do when you have no money, but you're hungry? You can't eat the television. So you take the television and sell it. That takes the pressure off for a few days.
But the money doesn't last long. Then you have to sell something else. After the 2009 financial crisis, Spain entered a depression. In such times, family members and different generations support each other.
But the single parent has no family to support her financially; she has to support her daughter alone. It's really tough. On Saturday, when I was at SOS Mamas, I had nothing to eat. I didn't want to go on Saturday, but I had nothing left. And without their help, imagine how my situation would be today. With six euros.
Yes, baby. It's okay. Everything's fine. Everything will be fine.
Private aid organisations like SOS Mamas are often the last resort. Ascensión Maestre receives a food delivery today. This food was donated by supermarkets.
Often, individuals also bring fruit and vegetables, but also toys and clothes. The demand is huge. I can assure you that we will be overrun in two to three months. Totally. So many people are asking for help.
I saw it again just yesterday: the numbers have been going up for a while, but yesterday 23 new families came in, you know? That's a lot. That's over a hundred new people. The food deliveries for SOS Mamas are partially funded by the EU. The roughly 200 volunteers often work seven days a week. The queue outside the soup kitchen is getting longer and longer.
Ascensión knows many of those affected personally, and for the men and women she's a confidant and role model. Look, she's painted her nails with henna, I think. Henna, right? African henna. African henna. She's a very good person, has a good character, is always open and honest, and helps everybody.
Like I told you: everybody's important to me. She talks to... everybody.
They're my family. Goodbye, beautiful. This is my little one. - You know how much I love you? - A lot, right? Do you realise that? Very much. I love you very much too. Come on, back in line.
They're very good people. Almost one third of the islanders are now considered poor. Social decline is tied to human tragedy, which Ascensión witnesses on a daily basis. It hurts me. There are stories I have on my mind. But I don't think it helps to cry.
If I break down in front of them, that won't solve anything. I have to appear strong. I have to keep up the façade. The way you see me, they have to see me: as strong.
But inside, I'm crying. Inside it's tearing my soul apart. Nieves Massa and her daughter Miriam are at a nearby beach.
They came by foot. There's no money for a ticket. Every day you feel a little worse. Every day. And then when you look back, you realise there's nothing left of the person you used to be. There's nothing left.
I used to have a normal life, I dressed well, I went to the hairdresser. I wore make-up. I painted my fingernails. Now I can't afford anything.
And with all this goes your human dignity, always begging and having to lie about the situation at home. That makes it very hard. Like so many, Nieves hopes for an end to the pandemic and the economic misery. But how she'll make ends meet until then remains to be seen.