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'Top manta' street sellers in the political crossfire

Undocumented migrants selling fake goods in Barcelona has become a key issue in the local election campaign


18 May 2019 12:17 PM



How to deal with illegal street vendors selling pirated luxury goods, a phenomenon known as 'Top Manta', has become a major issue in the local election campaign in Barcelona.

Yet, while the candidates for mayor are split on the issue, the sellers have come up with an initiative to set up their own fashion label as an alternative to selling fake goods.

The Top Manta brand has been created by the Union of Street Sellers, and it is the first initiative of its kind anywhere in the world.

The group gives voice to many African migrants, mostly Senegalese, who crossed the Mediterranean hoping to find work in Europe.

Street selling the only option

Many of the migrants do not have a work permit and so resort to selling fake clothes and accessories to tourists as their only viable livelihood.

Yet the activity is illegal, which means playing cat and mouse with the local police, a situation no one is happy with, not least the migrants themselves.

"How can an undocumented person, who can’t move around, or get benefits, or work, harm a white person with all their privileges?" asks Daouda Dieye from the Union of Street Sellers.

Choosing the right approach

Four years ago, when Ada Colau became mayor, her left-wing local government opted for a softer approach, working with social services to find a way off the streets.

However, the opposition argue that this only encourages more migrants to cross, although some claim that the sellers are not the threat they are often made out to be.

"The greatest and most harmful [myth] about street sellers is that they’re violent, which serves as an excuse for a harder approach," says journalist and author, Yeray S. Iborra.

On one thing all political parties agree on is that ideally there would be no street sellers on the streets, but how to get to that point is what sets them apart.

While some see law enforcement as the ultimate solution, others see the priority as helping sellers find alternative livelihoods.


  • Street vendors selling in the port of Barcelona (Elisenda Rosanas/ACN)

  • Street vendors selling in the port of Barcelona (Elisenda Rosanas/ACN)