Living_ or rather surviving_ on the margins of society by leader6


									                                   Country: Belgium – Publication: De Standaard – ID: 270_JA_BE

                                                    Type Award: Special Award

          Living, or rather surviving, on the margins of society

Anyone who has ever visited a southern European city such as Rome or Barcelona is familiar with the
illegal African street vendors peddling their wares on a blanket spread on the ground. Every day ends
with the same game of cat-and-mouse with the police.

Most tourists are aware that the vendors are virtually all Senegalese and that the fake Prada
handbags are so genuine-looking that friends at home can hardly tell the difference – so they buy and
buy and buy! As customers, they risk a fine, but because they are tourists, the police turn a blind eye.

The Senegalese street vendors risk a prison sentence of up to two years for selling fake Pradas. A
criminal record also means the end of any chance of getting a residence permit. Until they get their
papers, legitimate employment is also impossible.

The Senegalese community in Spain lives, or rather survives, on the margins of society. Because
they are living illegally in Spain nobody actually knows how many there are, or precisely where they
come from, or who or what they have left behind in Africa, or whether they make it to the end of every
month in Spain, or how they see their own future, but above all, whether the perilous crossing to
Europe was really worth the effort.

“You're always looking over your shoulder”
BARCELONA/PALMA DE MALLORCA – “I live as if I were being hunted down. Every day, I wonder
whether I'm going to earn anything or whether I'm going to have my goods confiscated and spend the
night in a cell.” The Senegalese street vendors in Spain live according to the law of the jungle – totally
dependent on one another. Within their closed, hidden community, they find friendship and solidarity,
but also envy and betrayal.

It is a sultry summer evening in Barceloneta, Barcelona's harbour. Tourists are looking for a cool spot
under the awnings of the fish restaurants and a table for dinner. In the evening sun, dozens of
Senegalese manteros are setting up their goods on blankets, or mantas, that have earned them their
name. Newcomers generally try to sell sunglasses and watches. Those with a little more start-up
capital proudly lay out their Prada, Louis Vuitton or Gucci handbags. All are fake, but all are made
from genuine leather.

Young, blond tourists from the UK take a curious look. Then the haggling and the flirting begins. Both
the British girls and the Senegalese boys throw their charms into the battle.

Every day the haggling comes to an abrupt end. One Senegalese gets an SMS saying that the police
are nearby on their motorcycles. The vendors warn their Senegalese colleagues. There is no time to

        An initiative of the European Union                
lose. The smart manteros have a rope attached to each corner of their blanket – one tug on the rope
and the four corners come together to form a makeshift sack that they throw over their shoulder.

Then they run, to avoid being fined, or getting their goods confiscated or even worse, having to spend
the night in a cell.

The daily game of cat-and-mouse with the police seems so contrived. Of course, the police have to do
something – what the street vendors are doing is illegal. Nonetheless, the spectacle has something
humiliating about it.

“An outsider can scarcely imagine what it's like,” says Mamadou Diagne from Senegal. “You live as
though you're being hunted down. Every day, I ask myself whether I'm going to earn anything or
whether I'm going to have my goods confiscated or be spending the night in a cell. You're always
looking over your shoulder.”

Mamadou has been in Spain since February 2007. He is eager to apply for his residence permit. He
only has six months to wait assuming the law is not made more stringent. Most parties involved agree
that the law needs to be amended so that illegal immigrants can only apply for a residence permit
after five years instead of three.

Mamadou came to Spain from Senegal on a tourist visa. “By plane.” When his visa expired, he simply
vanished into Barcelona and did not return home.

Most illegal Senegalese immigrants in Spain are young, poorly educated men. Mamadou is not. Back
in Senegal, he was an English teacher. His children are seventeen, thirteen and eight years old.

“When I arrived in Barcelona, I slept on the street for a week. Then I spent a while in a relief centre
where you can report at ten o'clock at night and have to be back out on the street by 8 o'clock the
next morning. Then I found a spot in an apartment in Besòs Mar.” Mamadou had an apartment in the
immigrant neighbourhood, Besòs, for two years with one living room and two bedrooms that he
shared with seventeen other adult men. “We were sleeping at least four to a mattress.”

“You don't have a second of privacy. The conversations are always the same – police, CDs, sales,
fines, etc. I wanted to talk about something different – I was the most highly educated person in the
house, but under those circumstances, you just have to swallow your pride.”

“It's impossible to keep such a space clean. There was one bathroom with one toilet for eighteen
men. If you have to leave at 7 a.m., then the queue for the toilet starts at 5 a.m.”

Mamadou Diagne now lives in a tiny room in a rented house in Barcelona belonging to an
organisation for people without residence permits. His living room is no more than a section of the
corridor. He works as an interpreter and a night watchman in return for board and lodging. To earn
some pocket money, he is trying to find work as a private English teacher. He pins up notices
throughout Barcelona reading, “University English professor with mucha experiencia” and his mobile

           An initiative of the European Union
Mamadou peers contemplatively outside and closes the blinds, “I go crazy in the heat of the sun…
Future plans? Hmmm… plans. I keep trying to climb up the ladder – that's why I got out of that house.
My plan involves getting my residence permit after three years, going back to Senegal and seeing if I
can arrange for my oldest kid to come and study in Spain. Things are progressing a lot slower than I
had hoped for. No, I'm not happy here.”

A large family
To retrace your steps and return to Senegal within three years without a residence permit is seen as a
major personal defeat and as a slur on the family that was left behind in Senegal. Virtually all
Senegalese men in Spain have a wife in Senegal and are the breadwinners for up to fifteen people
including children, aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces, and perhaps even their neighbours.

There is huge moral and social pressure to send money back to Senegal. Money that is often non-
existent. Even though Mamadou Diagne left the overpopulated apartment in January, he has not
abandoned his former flatmates. We drive in a small, dilapidated Fiat to Santa Coloma, a suburb of
Barcelona. Mamadou goes there every month to visit a Spanish charity organisation and pick up food
parcels that he distributes among his Senegalese friends.

In hot weather, we are generally given dried foodstuffs. The elderly lady that lets us into the food
hangar will not let Mamadou leave until he takes a gigantic tin of tuna spread, a tin of guacamole
weighing at least 3 kg, two boxes of fresh white cheese and several kilos of green apples.

Mamadou apologises profusely, “Mother, thank you, but I have to leave that here – Africans don't eat
that…” Protesting the old lady retorts, “But it's delicious! It's not past its sell by date!” With a sigh he
runs to the car, “It's the same every month. But I know that the boys only cook Senegalese style and
aren't waiting for me to turn up with fresh, white cheese or tuna spread for their sandwiches!” Before
Mamadou can leave, the old lady stubbornly throws a few sacks of green apples into the car.

Mamadou's former flatmates live in a fourth-floor apartment in the immigrant neighbourhood Besòs
Mar. Now, there are only twelve people staying in the small apartment with only two bedrooms. Four
men per bedroom and four in the living room. During the day, four narrow mattresses serve as a
makeshift sofa.

When we arrive, the Senegalese residents behave as though they were a group of choirboys. Nobody
says anything; everyone is obediently sitting on a chair with his arms crossed and a broad smile on
his face.

As soon as Mamadou makes it clear that they can “quit mucking around”, they move faster than you
would think was humanly possible. In a flash, the small living room is bristling with dozens of fake
Prada handbags and countless hands are stuffing CD cases with photocopied CD inserts.

Bouba (33) has been designated as the person in charge of the apartment. “We pay €650 rent every
month. Everything is split twelve ways – rent, gas, electricity and food. I collect the money every
month. That's quite a task!” He laughs apologetically.

            An initiative of the European Union
“Naturally, it's difficult living on top of one another like this. But none of us could survive in Spain
alone. In Europe, you have to pay for every bite you eat and for everything that you do. It's so
different from Africa.”

Bouba says that there is a lot of friendship and solidarity within the community, “Newcomers from
Senegal are excused from having to pay anything for a while so that they can catch their breath.” And
the grapevine works well here. Last week, a street vendor was killed in an accident. The news spread
like wildfire. An organisation takes on responsibility for repatriating deceased Senegalese immigrants.
Every Senegalese pays a contribution of €30. Virtually everyone pays because it could be your turn
too one day.

Bouba was a fisherman in Senegal. “Now, I'm a street hawker. I've been caught three times now. But
I've never spent the night in a cell. My lawyer keeps on saying, "Bouba, just deny it outright. You've
never sold anything!" And so, I lied. Some judges also turn a blind eye every now and then.”

Everyone has the same evasive answer to that one question on everyone's mind, “Where do they get
their goods?” “From the Chinese! They've got warehouses full of fake goods that they sell on to us.”
Everyone maintains that he is selling for himself and that he does not have to pay anything to a boss.
A rumour persists in Spain that insinuates that there is more that meets the eye to African street
vendors than pure survival instinct.

No wimps!
Barbara Picornell works with the Senegalese street vendors every day at the charity organisation
Caritas in Mallorca. “We keep going on about how risky it is to sell fake designer items,” explains
Picornell. 'The risk is high that they'll get caught and be fined a lot more heavily than for selling
unbranded goods.” In addition, they risk having to pay a hefty fine to large fashion houses like Prada
or Louis Vuitton. 'They just say, "The risks are higher, but so are the profit margins!"'

The illegal Senegalese immigrants come to Caritas for courses in Spanish or Catalan. “On completing
the course, they receive a certificate that is recognised as interim proof of residence.” When applying
for residence permits, an immigrant can demonstrate using the quarterly certificates that he has been
in Spain for three years.

“Of course, some ask whether a certificate could be backdated. I always refuse and then I really get it
in the neck, "Come on, Barbara! I'm only asking for a simple favour!"'

The Zapatero government issued a large-scale amnesty for all illegal immigrants in 2005. 'The
conservative opposition at the time screamed that this would trigger an influx of new immigrants,”
says Barbara Picornell. “Back then, it was mainly Latin-Americans and Pakistanis who were granted
residence permits – many Senegalese weren't even here then.”

A year later, Spain was inundated with boat refugees from Africa. “Last year, the influx stopped and in
the first half of this year, the number of illegal immigrants was half that compared to the same period
last year, partly due to more stringent patrols.”

            An initiative of the European Union
Frontex, the European border agency, does not count the failed attempts, i.e. the deaths. 'There are
still hordes more coming. Sea patrols in African waters are forcing boat refugees to chart increasingly
dangerous routes to Europe.”

The economic crisis has hit Spain hard, with an unemployment rate of 20% among the working
population. This makes no difference to an African, says Barbara Picornell, 'They'll keep on coming,
because the situation's always worse in Africa. And each new boat refugee looks to emulate the
success stories. Anyone who manages to get his residence permit and to make something of himself
returns to Africa a winner. Then he can build a house that impresses the whole village. Being a street
vendor in Spain isn't the objective, it's just a means to an end.”

“How much I earn? Fifty euros is really an exceptionally good day's work,” explains Thierno (39) who
shares a small apartment in the seaside resort of S'Arens on Mallorca with eight other Senegalese.
From an inside pocket, he suddenly pulls out fifty or so fake Dior sunglasses. “But I haven't earned a
cent in four days. I've sold a lot less this year than in past years. Tourists don't have as much money
for sunglasses, just cheap booze. Did you know that a drunk tourist falls off a balcony every week in
Mallorca?” The others snigger.

'The most beautiful thing about Senegal is my wife. But without me, she only leads half a life.” If the
law becomes stricter and he has to wait another two years for his residence permit, then he is not
sure whether he will be able to persevere in Spain, “I'm not sure yet where my breaking point is – I'll
know when I reach it.”

Eight-metre high waves
“I come from the outskirts of Dakar,” says Mahêcor (46), who speaks impressively good Spanish and
Catalan for someone who has been in Mallorca for two years and four months. Virtually no one in
Mallorca can believe that he is actually a boat refugee living illegally in Spain given his appearance as
an amiable and well-spoken intellectual.

Mahêcor was an academic and city councillor in his town in Senegal. “When my party lost the
elections, I gradually had less and less work.” He moved to Mauretania to find people who could get
him across to Europe. He waited patiently for several years for the right companions and the right

“One evening, eight flatmates – fishermen – didn't return home. They disappeared without a trace for
three months. Then out of the blue, I got a phone call, "Mahêcor!!! We made it to Spain in our fishing
boat!" They were in Tenerife. It seemed unbelievable, but it was possible, I thought to myself.”

Mahêcor also found a boat. There were 105 other men on board and eight crew members. “It was a
hellish ordeal. On one particular day, they had to make a detour of 200 km just to avoid a Moroccan
sea patrol. We lost a whole day. At sea, the container ships are perilous because they create such
large waves. Our boat almost capsized.”

“The arrangement was clear – other boat refugees in distress wouldn't be helped, as this would only
put us in danger. Secondly, on arrival in Spain, we would say nothing about our crew's identity.”

           An initiative of the European Union
The crew charted a route using a GPS system. It was impossible to sleep on such a choppy sea, “We
could only nap for ten minutes at most. Then the waves would shake us awake again. There were
waves measuring up to eight metres in height.”

The group was heading for Tenerife, “We knew that the relief centres there were full to bursting, which
increased our chances that they'd fly us directly to the Spanish mainland. From there, it would be far
more difficult and expensive to repatriate us to Africa.”

After a journey lasting three days, the boat came ashore in Los Cristianos, on Tenerife, at 3 o'clock in
the morning. “Spanish fishermen found us. We saw the Guardia Civil, a lot of journalists and
photographers speaking a language we didn't understand. We were given blankets and water, and
later something else to drink. I thought to myself that if these people thought our story was so
important, then we'd done something pretty exceptional.”

Mahêcor has never sold anything on the street, “Because it's illegal here in Spain. I've always found
other work and followed my own plan. That system doesn't work for a lot of Senegalese, but I dived in
with both feet. I learned the language straightaway. And now, a lot of Spaniards are astonished to
hear me speak. (Chuckling) They can't comprehend how it's possible for an African to speak Catalan!
And better than them even!”

The system is also open to abuse, “You can't work here without a work contract. So Senegalese with
permits lend their documents to fellow countrymen while they go on holiday to Senegal for a few
months.” He adds that his bank pass actually belongs to a Malian friend.

Nonetheless, it is not all friendship and solidarity in Spain, “Some Senegalese street vendors
purposely set traps for others. I was once reported for working illegally. By another Senegalese with a
permit, of all people! He obviously thought that things were going too well for me.”

Spanish judges and lawyers contest disproportionate law
BARCELONA – “If you steal goods worth less than €400 in a CD store in Spain, then you risk only an
administrative fine,” explains Spanish lawyer Hibai Arbibe. “But a Senegalese street vendor who sells
a fake CD risks two years imprisonment. This sentence is out of all proportion.”

Hibai Arbibe, a lawyer in Barcelona, is heading up a campaign with many other lawyers and judges in
Spain to do away with the two-year prison sentence for illegal Senegalese street sales.

“If you steal goods worth less than €400 in a CD store in Spain, then you risk only an administrative
fine. Only if you steal more than €400 worth of goods do you risk a prison sentence,” explains Arbibe.
“An African street vendor only has to sell one fake CD and he can land in prison for two years and
made to pay a hefty fine as well. The reasoning behind this is protection of intellectual property rights
in the music and film industries, despite statistics having shown that the worst offenders are actually
internet downloaders.”

Senegalese street vendors sell less than 7% of the illegal film copies in Spain. The damage they inflict
on the music industry is even less – African street vendors account for only 4% of the illegally copied
CDs sold in Spain.

           An initiative of the European Union
“Nobody is saying that intellectual property rights shouldn't be protected,” says Hibai Arbibe. “It's just
that the music industry should realise that the problem of illegal online downloads is far greater. The
manteros [street vendors, ed.] are simply the most visible and most vulnerable. Intellectual property
rights most certainly need protection, but the right to survival is far more important.”

The campaign's participants devote themselves to keeping street vendors out of prison. Everyone
believes that intellectual property rights and luxury brand names should be protected, but what a
commensurate sentence is remains the subject of much debate. Hibai Arbibe believes it should
suffice to impose an administrative fine, “At least they then avoid a criminal record.”

This is important in terms of getting a residence permit. Because Senegalese live illegally in Spain,
they are not entitled to a work contract. If they succeed in staying in the country illegally for three
years, then they may be granted a residence permit subject to certain conditions. An important
condition is that they can prove their illegal presence for a period of three years with quarterly
certificates, a work contract and a clean record.

“They only come to me if they already have a criminal record,” explains immigration lawyer Concha
Par in Barcelona. “It's possible to commute a prison sentence to a fine with legal proceedings, but it
costs a lot of money. They can also buy off their record, but that's expensive too. After an immigrant
has wiped his record clean, he then has to wait an additional two years before applying for his
residence permit.”

The Senegalese have a lot of lawyers among their supporters who feel that Spanish law currently
punishes poverty. In Barcelona, 70% of criminal judges are prepared to turn a blind eye every so
often without imposing a prison sentence for street hawking.

“A change of attitude is underway,” Hibai Arbibe believes. “Although judges in Madrid and Valencia
are a lot harsher than here in Barcelona. Public opinion and the Spanish press are also against us.
They associate illegal street vendors with organised crime and hence demand more severe
punishments. But I don't believe that we should be looking for a huge mafia operation behind these
vendors. They can earn far more smuggling drugs and weapons than selling fake handbags!”

Masaje? Massage!
BARCELONA – Visitors to the beach in Barceloneta are a potential goldmine for anyone living illegally
in Spain. There is a different activity for each nationality.

Senegal: Senegalese men and boys are generally street vendors selling fake designer handbags,
watches, sunglasses, illegally copied CDs, cassettes and the latest films. Senegalese women plait
children's hair on the street.

Nigeria: It is striking how little the illegal immigrant populations in Barcelona and Mallorca intermingle
– even among Africans. According to the Senegalese, Nigerians get involved in drug dealing and

            An initiative of the European Union
Pakistan: Pakistanis sell cold cans of beer to thirsty tourists on the Spanish coast and the Ramblas in
Barcelona. The Pakistanis also have somewhat of a monopoly in the sale of illegal CDs that they sell
on to the Senegalese.

China: Although the Senegalese street vendors painstakingly protect their suppliers, it is an open
secret that they get their handbags from the Chinos.

Chinese women and girls with their plastic bags full of massage oils have rediscovered the beach,
where they offer relaxing massages to tourists for €5. Every five minutes a Chinese masseuse passes
by shouting, “Massage?! Masaje? Cinco euro!”

The Catalan seaside resort of Rosas has asked the Spanish Coastal Ministry to allow not only African
vendors to be fined on the spot, but also the illegal masseuses.

The Reus town council is primarily “concerned about public health”, writes the Catalan newspaper
El Periódico, “What sort of massage oils are these girls actually using? Do they just wash their hands
at the beach showers? This is not particularly hygienic. What is the next step? Beach hair removal?”

It is still “under examination” as to whether customers will also be fined in Rosas. “It's kind of sad to
spend you summer holiday here and end up being fined, don't you think?” asks Magda Casamitjana,
Rosas' mayor.

            An initiative of the European Union

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