African migrants in Europe trade one hardship for another

Nearly a million Africans now call Spain home, sending stories of hope back to family. But they hide a difficult reality.

After making his way in 2016 from Senegal to the agricultural belt of southern Spain, Mbaye Tune settled into regular seasonal work on tangerine and other fruit farms. Now 25, he’s landed legal residency and a rented apartment he shares with other Senegalese.

When Youssouf walks in the southern Spanish town of Lepe, where he is living for now inside an abandoned slaughterhouse, he greets in passing the other Africans he recognizes: the Senegalese, the Nigerians, the men from Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast.

He is fluent in French and has learned good Spanish, but with Malians like himself the exchanges are in Bambara, which requires more elaborate courtesies. Is your extended family fine? Yes, they are well. Your close family is fine? They also are well. And your wife? She is well.

Youssouf likes to wear a short-brimmed hat and sunglasses outdoors. His clothes and shoes are clean whenever he’s on the streets; there’s hot water in the slaughterhouse, where aid workers have improvised a migrant shelter amid the concrete stalls. Youssouf helps keep order inside. Because of this, and because he knows how it feels when a man with ambition battles shame every morning—why a good son or husband or friend tells lies over the mobile phone to people he loves, a continent away—Youssouf makes it a point to sit with newcomers in the shelter’s common rooms, just keeping them company.

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