For migrants in Spain, survival means squats and odd jobs

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The Local Spain/AFP - [email protected]
For migrants in Spain, survival means squats and odd jobs
"I feel cheated," says Kashamba, who comes from Uganda. Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP

Francis Kashamba got 10 euros (S$15.90) for a 14-hour day and Lamine Sarr survives as a street vendor. For these illegal migrants in Spain, Europe has proved to be more of a purgatory than the paradise they imagined.


"I feel like a baby, I cannot do anything, I cannot decide my future. If I had papers, I could get... a job and provide things for myself, but now I only can pray," says Kashamba, 32, irritated.

He lives with some 30 other migrants in an abandoned school in central Barcelona which they have occupied since mid-April in protest at Spain's restrictive laws on residency - despite the country's recent moves to welcome migrants.

Last month, the Aquarius, a French NGO rescue vessel carrying 630 migrants, was given authorisation to dock in the eastern port of Valencia.

It had been refused access by Italy and Malta, causing an international outcry.

And on Wednesday, the Open Arms rescue ship docked in Barcelona with another 60 migrants on board after getting the green light from Spain's new Socialist government.

But once they leave behind the hardship that pushed them to head to Europe, what awaits is a form of agonising purgatory, according to the migrants occupying the Massana School.

"I feel cheated," says Kashamba, who comes from Uganda.

"I had been told that Europe was a paradise. But real life in Spain, from what I have seen in these seven months, is not good at all."

Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP

Paid a pittance

Kashamba flew to Barcelona in December, entering Spain on a tourist visa.

He left his wife, two sons and a small gold extraction business in Uganda, hoping to earn enough money to help purchase mining equipment.

But in Spain, which has the second highest jobless rate in the eurozone, finding work has been all but impossible for an immigrant without the necessary ID.

For two months, he worked in a carpenter's workshop where he worked 14-hour days in exchange for a bed and daily salary of 10 euros daily, half of which went to food.

Then he tried to find work as a day labourer, waiting every day with dozens of migrants at the same spot for people to offer them small jobs in construction or loading and unloading, usually very badly paid.

"Not having the necessary papers condemns thousands of migrants to insecurity and to the black market," says Norma Falconi, an Ecuadoran who has lived in Spain for 25 years and is helping those at the Massana School.

A tall order

According to the SOS Racismo association, illegal migrants represent around 10 per cent of the 4.5 million foreigners living in Spain.

Under the current law, they can get residency papers after three years in Spain - but only if they can show a full-time work contract of at least 12 months.

This is difficult even for young Spanish who have recently graduated, let alone for illegal migrants to whom prospective employers would have to pay both a salary and social security costs in order to hire them legally.

Lamine Sarr, who works as a street vendor, knows this all too well.

"I've been here 12 years, my life is here, I'm not going to leave but they don't allow me to live here normally," says this 35-year-old Senegalese man.

Like Sarr, dozens of migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, fill the touristy streets of Barcelona, selling sunglasses, bags, slippers or belts, all laid out on white sheets on the ground.

Attached to the corners are ropes so they can quickly bundle up and whisk away their merchandise if the police approach. If caught, they face a fine and could lose their goods and money.

"We're chased like criminals," he says.

"I'm in an illegal situation, but I'm not going to rob anything nor sell drugs.

"I only have the sheet and if they don't want to give me papers, this is the only way I can survive."

Despite his precarious situation, Kashamba is still hopeful.

"You never know what will happen in the future. I have no work but I am meeting people and learning to be ready if I get the papers," he says. 


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