BUENOS AIRES, Jun 28- 2018 (IPS) – Senegalese immigrants began to arrive in Argentina in the 1990s and most of them joined the group of street vendors in Buenos Aires and other cities. But in recent months, they have suffered police brutality, denounced as a campaign of racial persecution.
“We always had a good relationship with the police. They even looked after my merchandise when I had to go to the bathroom. But lately everything has changed,” 35-year-old Moussa Sow, from Senegal, who has lived in Argentina for 11 years, told IPS.
“They take everything we have from us blacks, they often beat us, while they do not touch the things of those who are selling next to us,” added Sow, who is married to an Argentine woman and moves around the vast geography of Buenos Aires and its suburbs, depending on where he finds the smallest police presence, selling jewelry, eyewear and watches.
Sow was the only Senegalese present at a demonstration organised by young Argentines and non-African immigrants to denounce what is happening and demand that they be allowed to work, on Saturday Jun. 16 in front of the Obelisk, the most emblematic monument in downtown Buenos Aires.
“The Senegalese didn’t come (to the demonstration) because they’re afraid. It is clear that since last year there has been an order to persecute Africans, on the grounds that they are infringing the trademark law or conducting business in public places,” said Nengumbi Sukama, a human rights activist born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who has lived in Argentina since 1995.
Earlier this month, the photo of Serigne Dame Kame, lying with a wounded arm in a pool of blood on the ground, surrounded by police officers, was widely disseminated on social networks. The 30-year-old Senegalese man was hospitalised and underwent emergency surgery, although he was detained.
The incident occurred on Avellaneda Avenue, a traditional shopping area in the Flores neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, and according to the version of the local police, Dame Kame fell into a shop window when he tried to escape from being arrested for trademark infringement.
But witnesses said that the police beat the immigrant and that one of them cut his arm with a knife and then quickly hid it in his uniform.
The situation was denounced by a group of human rights organisations, including the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), one of the leading human rights groups, and Amnesty International.
The cities of Buenos Aires and La Plata, 55 km away, have seen “disproportionate police operations in recent months to pursue street vendors, mainly of Senegalese nationality, violent and unjustified raids, constant intimidation, harassment and repeated episodes of physical and verbal violence against Senegalese workers,” said the human rights organisations in a statement.
“Both police and prosecutors use racial profiling to criminalise Senegalese workers,” they added.
There are no recent official figures on the number of African immigrants in