Untold Stories

The ‘Regularización Ya’ movement confronts slavery in Spain

30 June 2020

Slaves are all around us. They pick our vegetables and keep them cheap. They take care of our elderly and give us free time. They clean our hospitals, deliver our food, build our houses and allow us to stay at home during the pandemic. Their institutional exploitation must stop, and that is exactly what Regularización Ya are here to do. 


On 25 June, the team of Barcelona’s Sindicato de Manteros packed overnight bags and caught a plane to Madrid. They arrived into the Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suárez Airport airport after dark and were greeted thunderously by their fellow Madrid anti-racist activists, ready to join up and fight for their rights the following morning.

That morning, I packed my backpack: a bottle of water, press card, yellow jacket and two cameras. I clipped my bumbag around my waist and put my phone, hand-sanitiser and ID inside, and finally, put on my face mask. I left the barrio and walked up to Congress expecting to see rivers of people flowing in the same direction – just like the BLM protest a few weeks before. But when I arrived, nobody was there.

The police had blocked off access to Congress, despite confirmation of the location of the protest. But I found the demonstrators – they weren’t far away having been shifted to outside the Westin Palace hotel, crammed into a narrow junction between fences and police vans. I joined them, waved hello to everyone I knew and started taking photographs while chanting “Regularización ya” and “No human being is illegal” between slogans borrowed from the BLM protests, including “No justice, no peace!”.

It was a powerful protest, a real concentration of energy of the people. You may have seen that I shared some of those photographs in a post last week, but I didn’t share many – I wanted to just give a concise overview of the situation for those who hadn’t been there or indeed didn’t even know what the movement was about. But after a week of reflection on how few people really attended, I’m going to open this up again to try and keep up the momentum.


The 26 June protest was small. There were perhaps 200 people there, almost all of them people of colour. I saw our allies there too, there were perhaps 20 white women in the crowd and a further 20 who were part of the organising. There were Trans people too – POC and white. I saw no fellow journalists or photographers of colour, just a few male reporters wedging themselves into the protest’s eye of the storm to bring bonus-earning coverage of something seemingly radical to their audience.

I did spot some cardboard signs that echoed, or perhaps were even from the BLM protest in Madrid a few weeks back. But where were the thousands of people holding them? A few weeks ago, George Floyd’s death mobilised the world, but a few weeks later, Spain’s secret slaves didn’t even come close.


A growing grassroots group of migrants and locals set up this movement to pressure the government to legalise undocumented migrants already living in Spain in order to allow them the same rights as tax-paying citizens – including the right to contribute to the economy legally. Now legally is the word, because they do contribute to the economy already, but by being exploited.

I love Spain, Spain is my country. But it’s exploiting my people. It has to stop!

…explains Becha, a Congolese seamstress and activist who runs one of the last remaining Covid-19 relief food banks in Lavapiés who attended the protest.

Almost all – if not all – undocumented migrants in Spain have jobs, but many are essentially slaves working in fields, care and construction. They earn money, but they don’t pay taxes and the silly thing is that they want to, but they’re not allowed. They want to because it means access to health care, education, legal rental contracts and self-worth – things that Spanish citizens take for granted.

In some cases, many undocumented migrants’ work situation echoes the definition of slavery that we’re more familiar with. Once they arrive into Spain after either jumping the fence, being trafficked by boat or hidden amongst cargo, they’re lured into exploitative work, their passports are confiscated and they’re unable to earn and save enough money to return home. Some want to stay and wait it out for the two to five years necessary before automatic citizenship, but others who arrived with the same dream are met with another reality and would like to leave. But they can’t, because it costs a lot more to be trafficked back than it does to be trafficked here. And so the vicious cycle of entrapment, exploitation and slavery unfolds.

With no papers, they have no rights, and for as long as they have no rights, they will continue to be exploited. Their slavery will continue to prop up Spain’s economy, whose global force is partly due to the institutional racism that chooses profit and segregation over fairness and equality. Immigrants will continue being virtual slaves while we continue being free, because Spain’s establishment has made a conscious decision to subtly allow slavery by prohibiting migrant rights. This isn’t just racism, it’s capitalism-driven oppression.


The Regularización Ya movement has gained more steam in recent months due to the Covid-19 pandemic, where exploited workers are still being forced to work but without adequate protection or insurance. The movement has also benefitted from the attention that Black Lives Matter has brought in raising awareness of institutional racism.

But I get it, it’s exhausting – physically and emotionally – even more so for people of colour (trust me). But keep going and let me help you stay informed. If you’re reading this article because a friend of yours shared it with you and you don’t yet know where to find me, I’ve planted a flag of freedom in this corner of Instagram, and here on Facebook, and Twitter. Also follow the hashtag #laleydeextranjeríamata and follow @RegularizacionYa to stay with me and stand with them.


I created this blog with one intention: to amplify the voices of those who are silenced. I do this with absolute refusal to let rich brands and those in a position of privilege influence what I publish: no ads, no sponsors, no investors.

I must keep telling those hard-hitting stories of inequality and discrimination, keep pushing overlooked businesses, and keep delivering the independent journalism this city so badly needs without anyone telling me what I can and can’t say. But in order for this project to keep growing, I’m asking for your help.

Support MNF for as little as $1 per month, which you can cancel at any time. 

By becoming a paying Patron, you will gain immediate access to all my secret, behind-the-scenes posts where I talk about my creative process as well as the challenges of single-handedly running an outspoken publication. You will also tap into my global travel guides, receive a downloadable map of over 500 Madrid locations that few ever realise exist, and get access to discounts for my upcoming series of activism workshops.

You may also like

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


(for locals)?

Enter your email and I’ll send it to you this very minute…



Delivered directly to your inbox once a month…