THE MIGRANT: "If I were to choose today, I would not come"

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 5 October 2016 10:00 GMT

Sarra Waly, a Senegalese migrant who has lived in Spain since 1999, poses with his bicycle in a park in central Barcelona before heading off for another afternoon of collecting scrap metal on the streets of Barcelona, Spain, Sept. 12, 2016. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Megan Rowling.

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BARCELONA, Oct 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - In any Barcelona neighbourhood, it's common to see men and women sifting through recycling bins, retrieving pieces of scrap metal, cardboard and paper which they sell to survive, as the Spanish economy struggles to climb out of crisis.

Sarra Waly, 37, is one of them. The migrant from the eastern Senegalese region of Tambacounda has worked in Barcelona and other parts of Spain since 1999, mainly in construction - which used to be profitable.

But for the past few years, decent work has been impossible to find. For around 10 hours a day, six days a week, Waly pushes a shopping trolley around the streets gathering dumped materials to sell to warehouses, where he gets paid by weight.

Waly wants to return to Senegal for good to open a business and live with his wife and daughter, but he cannot afford to.

"I used to go back (to Senegal) every year for a month in August, when I had work, but for the past three years I have not been able to. Not seeing my daughter is a bit tough, but what can we do?

There is no work. Before I worked in construction ... but with the (economic) crisis, it is finished. The only option is to collect scrap from the streets.

My brother is a doctor. I would like to set up a pharmacy with him in my country. If I had 3,000 euros ($3,360), I could do it, but I don't.

When I was 19, I thought it would be better if I came here - the main reason I came was to earn more.

At first things went well for me, but not in the last three years. With the crisis, things have got worse, there is no work, nothing - what can we do? Collect scrap.

Time is passing, time is passing. My family is waiting for me in Senegal. My wife wants me to go home.

I do not know when that will be possible - I have to find work. I look every day, on the internet and elsewhere, but there isn't anything.

Now I earn 30 euros ($33.60) a day - once you have paid your rent, and you drink water and eat, how much do you think is left?

There are a whole load of people doing this work, every day there are more. The metal fetches 0.11 euros per kilo now. It used to be 0.30 euros.

When I decided to leave Senegal, there were three countries I had always wanted to go to since I was little - Spain, Germany and Britain. But as I got my papers here, I stayed.

It was easy for me to get here. I took a plane to Casablanca, then a train to Tangiers, and then a taxi to Ceuta (a Spanish enclave in North Africa). It took a month in total.

I arrived on a Saturday and my papers were all sorted on Monday. They needed construction workers back then.

If I were faced with the choice again today, I would not come, because here there is nothing. It is better (in Senegal). 

The young people don't know it is difficult here. Every day, I see in the news that people are dying at sea in boats.

What is important (to know now) is that everything about immigrants is dark, and they don't count for anything.

But we have to be patient. Every day, with the shopping cart, you keep going quietly, and look for your path in life."

($1 = 0.8929 euros)

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