Forgotten in Plaça Catalunya

Plaza Cataluña, preserving its cosmopolitan nature, has become the home of more than fifty sub-Saharan

A Barcelona that hides its other reality, defined by the despair and the social exclusion.

Placed in the very centre of Barcelona, next to the well-known Ramblas that have appealed thousands of tourists, and surrounded by shopping centres; Plaza Cataluña, preserving its cosmopolitan nature, has become the home of more than fifty sub-Saharans, who have found their shelter there. Some of them made their way up to the coasts of Almeria or Cadiz and, after being arrested, were released with nothing but a deportation order. Others were brought from Canarias to either Madrid or Barcelona by a plane which the Ministry of Interior had specially rented and, once there, they were abandoned in the centre of the city. Spain doesn’t have any extradition treaty with the Sub-Saharan countries. Without documentation there’s no job; and without job, there’s no documentation: it’s an unstoppable and endless loop, so all those youngsters are condemned to the indigence or the crime.

Peter (see photos 3, 4 & 19) doesn’t like this situation and is worried. He ran away from Sierra Leona to save his life: “My mother and my father died when I was a child, so I had trouble continuing my studies so I started working as a bricklayer. Since mass killing is an every-day issue in Freetown, six of us decided to escape.” He says that sleeping on the streets is far better, but he can’t understand why he’s not given the documentation that would allow him to work and run a decent life. One day he get his head shaved and jests: “… it’s easier to have your hair clean…”. When the night falls he lies in a bench and dreams of a better future.

At noon they cue for more than an hour to get the ticket that would let them, four hours later, have the single meal of the day in the charity canteen of the Hermanas de Santa Teresa de Calcuta (Sisters of the Saint Teresa of Calcutta). Williams and his colleges devour in less than five minutes a bowl of rice with vegetables, a slice of bread, some biscuits, fruit and a yogurt. At dusk they all get ready for the long torture of sleeping on the streets. They are young, but nights are damp in Barcelona and the lack of a proper diet is starting to affect them; most of them complain of muscular pain. The underground’s entrance is a good solution in case of rain or before the presence of the police. During the night there’s always a patrol in the square, they take turns. The orders they follow are to coerce the homeless into leaving the place, so they force the sub-Saharans to sit arguing that “… benches are meant to sit, not to lie down”. Most of them end up sleeping seated in the most uncomfortable positions.

While Willy, who has slept quite well in the underground’s stairs, is brushing his teeth in the fountain of the square; the dawn surprises his three exhausted colleges who have suffered the harassment of the police all night long. Once again, the city wakes up with its eyes closed to its reality.

Moreover, there are also other things going on, such as the new Law on Foreigners, the demonstrations of the undocumented migrants and the holdings in churches. Meanwhile, hundreds of immigrants are endlessly arriving to our coasts and another hundred are dying in the attempt.

Peter, William, Georges, Willy and all their sub-Saharan “brothers” are currently sleeping in the Albergue Municipal de Valldonzella while they wait for the proceedings of legalization promised by the Government Representation to be completed. They still eat and shower in the beneficiary centers and they still meet in the square, but now their faces have a hint of a smile. For them something has changed…

Report done between July and December 2000. The “harassment” of the police started in September and ended right after the publication of some of this photos in La Vanguardia on the 17th of the same month.

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