I came from Senegal to Spain in 2009 when I was sixteen years old. I was very lucky here, as I met very good people who helped me to adapt easily and to learn Spanish. I love playing football and basketball. In my free time I like to read books, watch drama movies and go to the theatre. I am a fan of Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, pioneers in African literature. I wrote a book called My Stolen Dream about my experience when I arrived in the Canary Islands. I can affirm that we African migrants come full of dreams, illusions and, above all, in search of a better life. In Africa they tell us that Spain is an idyllic place where it is easy to get work and money, where we will have a more prosperous future than in our countries of origin. Due to this, some of us leave everything and take risky decisions to come, like when we travel by dinghy and we put our lives at risk. Our histories are many and varied: some of us are fleeing from war, others fear that terrorist groups will come to our regions, among many other circumstances. However, when we set foot on Spanish soil, our expectations are eclipsed as soon as we encounter the harsh reality we have to face on arrival in an unknown country. Some of the biggest difficulties we encounter include being in an irregular situation, not speaking the same language, and racism.
First of all, I want to say how being in an irregular situation affects us. When a migrant has no documentation, things become much more difficult: you live a clandestine existence, fearing that the police will ask to see your papers. It becomes practically impossible to find work that is not precarious. Nowadays, if one of us is in an irregular situation, we are sent to the CIEs (foreign national internment centres), which are like prisons where people live in very bad conditions. These centres represent the dehumanisation of migrants because they deprive us of our liberty and isolate us from the rest of society. The psychological consequences are terrible: anxiety, uncertainty and even loss of hope. After the CIE there are two options: one is that they deport you and the other is that they leave you to fend for yourself on the street. When you find yourself on the street, you have to find a job to survive, but without papers there is practically nothing you can do. Because of this, there are those who turn to street hawking to get an income that covers their basic needs. Others end up in precarious jobs working long hard days, and quite often they don’t even pay you. So when African migrants don’t have papers, we are totally unprotected and left to our fate.
Secondly, I want to highlight that not understanding or speaking good Spanish is a barrier to inclusion in Spanish society. This makes it very hard for us to communicate with people, particularly when we talk to someone and they make no effort to understand us. For example, it makes it difficult when you are looking for a job, because nobody wants to hire someone who doesn’t speak good Spanish. Despite the fact that there are now centres for teaching migrants to speak the language, the teaching time tends to be limited. Generally, we try to learn as quickly as possible so we are able to seek a living. To sum up: if we don’t make an effort to learn the language quickly, there is practically nothing we can do.
Thirdly, another problem is the racism that we encounter from the moment when the media present us as violent people at the borders or as "invaders" coming to European lands. This is a completely negative way of representing us and gives the people watching the news the wrong idea about us. So when we want to socialise with people, we sometimes experience discrimination or rejection. Also, the media say that migrants come to take jobs from Spanish people and that we live on social benefits. However, the reality is very different. We come to make a living and we generally do jobs that Spanish people don’t want. With regard to social benefits, they are minimal and, in many cases, there are some people who never receive them and don’t even know that they exist.
Another problem that is very prevalent is discrimination. Even when we are in the country legally, there is police persecution. Often the police stop us in the street to ask for our documents, even if we’re not doing anything in particular, as though we were criminals. Simply because of the colour of our skin, they stop us in the street and treat us inhumanely, sometimes they even use physical force and a degree of violence, and we are not able to do anything to defend our rights. But it is not only police persecution, it can also happen on public transport. For example, when we go on the metro and they only ask us for our public transport card and our ID document to check that we're not breaking any rules.
Also, when we get a job somewhere, we can also experience racism. In Europe, people often have the idea that in Africa people are not as well educated and they don’t have knowledge that could bring anything new or useful to the job, when in actual fact we also have lots to contribute. This happened to me. I’m a cook and when I’ve had to make joint decisions with my colleagues, my opinion has not been taken into account. Even when I insist, people consider that I don’t have as much knowledge of certain issues because I come from Africa. However, all contributions should be taken into account. Everyone's opinions are valid and they can always help to make tasks easier.
Being a migrant doesn’t have to be something negative, because we also make many contributions, as some recent studies have demonstrated. The concept that people have of migrants needs to change, especially in the case of Africans, as it makes it hard for us to integrate socially in countries and makes things much more complicated for us. We are all human beings, we migrate just as many other people have done over the centuries. If there is something I am very clear about it is that “no human being is illegal”. We only want a better life.
Jimmy Babiche Kampote (Byumba, Ruanda, 1992). He is the author of Mi sueño robado (Círculo Rojo, 2017), an autobiography in which he narrates his experience as a 16-year-old migrant on the long journey from Africa to Europe.