Canada Real Galiana, the slum of shame

A few kilometres south of Spain's capital Madrid, the largest slum of western Europe contains nearly 40,000 people. The authorities are trying, in vain, to discourage settlement in Canada Real Galiana. (Report: A. Percept, C. Perrouault)


Canada Real Galiana lies just south of Madrid along Highway M50. It is Europe’s largest shantytown and home to 40,000 people living in unhealthy conditions.

A city within a city, Canada Real Galiana gives migrants a chance to find cheap housing. A majority of them are from Morocco. But there are also Spaniards who have been living there since the Franco regime gave way to a free market economy 30 years ago. They tend to live in the shantytown’s better quarters such as Sector V. There, despite the potholes and the lack of public services, houses are permanent structures.

In October 2007, the city of Madrid tried to evict several families without notice so as to get rid of some of the illegally-built houses.

Police forces clashed with the population and several policemen were injured in what turned into a riot. Authorities then proceeded to suspend the evictions. But the bulldozers came back at the end of April to demolish several houses, again without notice.

Sector V has been growing continuously for the last 40 years, spreading over an old trail, which has been listed unsuitable for building. Most of its inhabitants are registered as residents in the neighboring municipalities and pay the land tax.

Valdemingomez is a neighborhood ripe with violence located at the heart of the shanty town. Drug trafficking has been growing sharply over the last two years. The car park by the church is full of junkies brought there by “kundas,” the drug cabs. Whether it’s for heroin, crack or coke, the dealers pick up their customers in downtown Madrid. Now that the various drug-selling spots have been kept under watch by police and that Spanish economy is slowing down, the Madrid shantytown is developing rapidly.

The Madrid region and all the concerned municipalities seem powerless. Last week’s demolition orders seemed to be aimed at newcomers, trying to convince them not to settle in Canada Real Galiana. But the action was in vain.

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