Senegalese street vendors showcase clothing line in Barcelona

Selling items on the go is not a new concept to Africans who often leverage the most unlikely spaces to sell their goods and services. For years, African migrants in Barcelona and other Spanish cities have earned a living by selling items like hats and perfumes in the streets, which they lay on white sheets that they quickly pick up and take away when police arrive.

In June 2017, a crowdfunding campaign aimed at finding alternative employment for 200 street vendors in Barcelona collected 48,000 euros ($59,000) to help set up their new association of Barcelona street vendors according to AFP. 

The Senegalese street vendors staged a fashion show on Friday 6 March in collaboration with the Design College of Barcelona, in which fifteen vendors showcased their small collection of T-shirts and sweatshirts with the slogan “legal clothes made by illegal immigrants”. 

A member of ‘Sindicato Popular de Vendedores Ambulantes’ (People’s Union of Street Vendors) walks the catwalk during a fashion show to present the t-shirts of their new crowdfunded trademark project ‘Top Manta’ on April 6, 2018 in Barcelona.

“We want to show our value to those who do not want to see it. We want to contribute to the economy of Barcelona, which is our city,” said a spokesman for the street vendors, Aziz Faye, in a statement.

Before this, street vendors would often buy the counterfeit clothes they sell from Chinese merchants. This is according PlayGround Do, a rights platform that supports the project to get the vendors off the streets and into alternative forms of employment.

Senegalese street vendors staged a fashion show in Barcelona to present their own collection of “legal clothes made by illegal immigrants”, the slogan of their campaign to create alternatives to street vending. PAU BARRENA / AFP

The number of migrants reaching Spain via the Mediterranean, most of them from sub-Saharan African countries, tripled from 9,000 in 2016 to 27,000 in 2017, while reported drownings off the Spanish coast nearly doubled, according to a report released in January by the International Organization for Migration.

With authorities in Spain and Morocco recovering the bodies of at least 20 African migrants in February, the Spanish authorities are grappling with an increase in attempted sea crossings spurred in part by a clampdown on other migratory routes across the Mediterranean.

Migrants try to enter Spain by the land border Spain shares with Morocco, often by climbing over fences. And this route, as well as the ones separating Morocco from Spain’s other enclave in Ceuta, North Africa, is quickly outpacing the Libya-Italy route—where incidents of abuse and enslavement are inflicted by Libya-based human traffickers, as the fastest growing entry point to Europe.

The influx, however, remains well below that of Italy, which received over 100,000 immigrants last year.

Photo: Migrants rescued from four small boats arrive in Almeria, southern Spain in August 2017. Carlos Barba/EPA

Spain, however, is preparing for more scenes like the one in Ceuta as migrant arrivals on the Spanish coastline averaged just under 5,000 a year between 2010 and 2016, down from peak of 39,180 in 2006. According to government data, it is on track to top 11,000 this year.

Policies trying to clamp down on illegal migration often do not yield the intended benefit, with migrants exploring alternate routes to avoid authorities.