A makeshift migrant camp on Spain’s abandoned Formula One circuit

 Less than a decade ago it was a massive playground for the wealthiest echelons of Valencia society in the heart of the city: a place for the elite to clink champagne glasses, watch million-dollar racing cars whizz past and inwardly congratulate themselves on forming part of a capitalist fairy-tale.

Now, though, it is a makeshift, ramshackle home for migrants, refugees and the destitute.

“I didn’t choose to live here,” Mohammed, a middle-aged Saharawi told Al Jazeera as he stood on the edge of a circle of huts made with walls of mattresses, plastic, wooden and metal poles in the centre of Valencia’s former Formula One circuit.

“I just needed a chance to work. And here, I have a small one.”

If Mohammed looks right from his Spanish “home”, less than a kilometre away, he can see the massive white curved arches of Valencia’s world-famous City of Arts and Sciences complex.

The local council estimates roughly 50 people are living in Valencia’s F1 shanty town. Mohammed said there are “dozens” from several different countries.

“Everywhere, people want to look for work. That doesn’t distinguish between nationalities.

“There are people from Morocco. And Spain, too, the ones over there with that Spanish flag flying over their huts. One guy from Ghana has been here for years.

“But if you don’t find work,” he asks rhetorically,” where else are you going to live? How can you rent a room?”

Corruption cases

Mohammed’s predicament is far from exceptional across western Europe.

What makes this shanty town striking is that it is set in the middle of a racing circuit that has come to symbolise what local journalist and author Francesc Arabí called “an era of life in the fast lane – in all senses”.

Valencia was run by the right-wing Partido Popular (PP) party until March 2015. Then, the region’s politics and some of its economic powerhouses, particularly in construction, became riddled with corruption.

Subsequent police investigations into corruption and kickback cases sometimes stretched deep into national politics.

One inquiry formed part of the Caso Gurtel, the largest pre-trial investigation in Spanish history.

That saw 29 defendants sentenced to a combined 351 years in jail, among them the PP’s former treasurer Luis Bárcenas who was sentenced to 33 years for fraud and money laundering.

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