“We don’t need papers to help”
Updated: Apr 14
In Barcelona, street vendors without papers have been sewing protective masks and gowns for hospitals and coordinating food distribution. An interview with Aziz Fate, spokesperson for the Sindicato Popular de Vendedores Ambulantes (Street Vendors' Union)
How did the idea to sew masks and gowns come to you?
We thought about how we could help in this serious crisis and support medical staff. And we want to help people who are especially suffering. Our idea was to sew masks for people who are at higher risk and who have no means to buy any. We are migrants, we live here and we want to participate in the development of the country. Many of us are tailors and we have an atelier where we’re able to produce everything.
We already had our shop with 18 sewing machines, so we converted everything and started sewing protective masks, gowns, and hairnet caps for doctors. First we used the fabric that we had in stock. Then companies came along and donated fabric to us. And so we gave out our masks to the hospitals. After this, orders ended up coming from the hospitals themselves.
What is the idea behind your “Street Vendors’ Union”?
We founded our association in 2018 to support fellow street vendors. We wanted to make visible the violence we are exposed to, to denounce the institutional racism we experience every day on the streets. Our idea was to create job opportunities for our colleagues and to find a way to improve our lives. And so we set up the atelier where we sew clothes that feature our own logo and sell them in Barcelona.
Who exactly is currently taking your masks and gowns?
At the moment we are mainly producing protective clothing for the hospital in Granollers, which needs about 2,000 gowns daily – so they are in urgent need of help. The hospital management had asked the state for support but received an evasive reply. That’s why they called on the population to ask whomever is able to sew smocks.
The hospital gave us plastic tarpaulins because the proper material isn’t available yet. So we also sew with that. However, we also accept fabric donations. We want to make our profession and our skills visible and show that we, too, are in solidarity. You don't need papers to help. Everybody can contribute, no matter who you are, no matter if you have papers or not.
You’ve now also established a food bank. How does that work?
We collect food that people donate to us and pass it on to the families of street vendors. Since we were told to shelter in place, they’ve no longer been allowed to work on the streets. We distribute food to about 150 families. We would also like to take this opportunity to say thank you for this support: many people have been transferring money or donating food to us. Without this solidarity we would be lost in this crisis.
What do you expect from the current left-wing government in Spain?
We expect that the demands that we have been making for years will be implemented: a legal residence status, which we need to be able to work like everyone else. We want to work, but a racist migration policy is in place that withholds work permits for three years – and this phase can be extended up to ten years.
There are people among us who, after more than a decade, still have no papers. This law is unworthy of a humane society and should be abolished, especially at this time when so many people are in need. We want to be able to live legally in Spain and, after the medical crisis, have a place where we can live.
Translation by Emily Pollak. Reproduced with the interviewer's permission.