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Tourist towns urge Catalan and Spanish governments to help them fight ‘top manta’

Illegal street trading, known in Catalonia as ‘top manta’, is an old and complex problem in many tourist towns in Catalonia. But councils feel alone and powerless when they try to deal with it. The recent death of Senegalese citizen Mor Sylla in Salou during a police operation against illegal vending has raised the alarms about a phenomenon that has economic, social and security implications. The mayors of Barcelona, Roses, Sitges and El Vendrell, some of the towns most adversely affected by this issue, have urged the Catalan and Spanish governments to intervene because this “is not a local problem” but a national, and even international one.

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24 August 2015 05:37 PM

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ACN / N. Guisasola, L. Fíguls, L. Poblado and G. Sánchez

Barcelona (CNA).- Tourist towns in Catalonia have urged the Catalan and Spanish governments to work together to deal with illegal street trading, known as ‘top manta’. After the death this summer in Salou of Senegalese citizen Mor Sylla during a police operation against ‘top manta’, alarms have been raised again about the economic, social and also security implications of this complex phenomenon that local politicians feel powerless to fight against. Many of the vendors are from Western Africa and in most cases have no legal documentation, so are living in an extremely precarious situation and usually escape the police when they are intercepted. The mayors of Barcelona, Roses, Sitges and El Vendrell, some of the towns most adversely affected by this issue, have warned in comments to the CNA that this “is not a local problem” but a national, and even international one.


The Council of Barcelona, led by former left-wing activist Ada Colau, has warned that the humanitarian catastrophe in the Mediterranean will increase migration, which in turn will boost ‘top manta’ unless “integral solutions are found”. The Catalan capital has also warned that it is the Spanish government that has “the competence and therefore the responsibility to manage migration fluxes”, adding that without “decisive” action by all public administrations and “social actors”, the problem will continue. Barcelona’s proposal to solve the issue of illegal street trading is to implement “socially transversal policies” to help prevent the phenomenon, in other words: going to the root of the issue, fighting the situation of social exclusion and therefore preventing people from being involved in illegal activities.   

The mayor of the northern coastal town of Roses, Montse Mindan, also feels that the issue needs a “global solution” and more decisive action by the Spanish state. The phenomenon, she warns, “goes well beyond the borders of Catalonia or Spain”. “It’s a European problem, if these huge avalanches of people continue to arrive in Greece, Italy and Calais, there is nothing local towns can do”, she states.

That’s why, according to her, the short-term solution is to toughen the laws that regulate the phenomenon. Mindan thinks that illegal street vending should be punished “more severely” than an administrative offence. “If not, we can only fine the vendors and confiscate the material”, she said regretfully.

Risk of social exclusion

The mayor of Sitges, Miquel Forns, agrees with the diagnosis and is now opting for “minimising the impact” of the phenomenon. Forns has asked all local towns affected to “come together” after the summer to ask for “new measures on immigration to help those that live in risk of social exclusion” and end up working for illegal counterfeit mafias. ‘Top manta’ has not only social and security implications, but also economic, as it is not regulated and many of the products that are being sold are counterfeits.

In the town of El Vendrell, in southern Catalonia, the situation is almost “under control”, according to Mayor Rafel Gosálvez. The politician thinks that besides asking for the involvement of the Spanish and Catalan governments, local councils also have to urge citizens to avoid shopping from ‘top manta’ vendors. “This is key”, he said, adding that sales have dropped “by 90%” in the area.

Police action

Local councils, powerless without a clear regulation on the issue and facing the security and social problems attached to the phenomenon, have had to find “imaginative” short-term solutions. In Sitges, for example, the street cleaning schedule is organised in a way that tries to dissuade vendors. Local and Catalan police are also deployed at the entry points to the town, in order to catch those vendors that travel by train or bus with illegal material. This solution has also worked in El Vendrell, where Head Police Officer Jordi Altarriba says police pressure has helped to notably reduce the problem.

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  • 'Top manta' in the coastal town of Sitges (by ACN)

  • 'Top manta' in the coastal town of Sitges (by ACN)
Sitges is one of the towns most adversely affected by the ‘top manta’ (by ACN)