Illegal Migration Through Spain’s Enclaves in Africa

11 Mar

Hardly a day passes without a news article about illegal migration into Europe, often about either the tragic loss of life when migrants drown attempting to enter Spain or Italy by sea or the hardships migrants suffer trying to enter an European Union (EU) country overland from Turkey. Here, as an illustration, is a CNN infographic showing pathways of illegal migration into Europe.

In the last month, however, a flurry of news article have called attention to Spain’s two territorial enclaves in Morocco, Ceuta and Melilla, where illegal migrants from Africa and refugees from war-torn Syria are using as a backdoor into Europe. Even though both cities are located in Morocco, they are legally Spanish territory, thus if illegal migrants are arrested in either of the two cities the hope is that they will be jailed—and eventually released—-on the Spanish mainland. The dream is that even if they’re still illegal they could construct a new and more comfortable life either in Spain or elsewhere in a European country like France or Germany since there are no longer any formal border controls between Spain and France. And once into France an illegal migrant can pass freely into Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, or Italy. Consequently Spain that the problems in Melilla and Ceuta are not simply Spanish problems but EU problems…..which is probably true.

The border fence between Melilla and Morocco, over which illegal migrants will climb in order to be arrested on Spanish territory. (Wikipedia photo)

The border fence between Melilla and Morocco, over which illegal migrants will climb in order to be arrested on Spanish territory.
(Wikipedia photo)

African migrants camped outside of Melilla. NY Times photo by Samel Aranda

African migrants camped outside of Melilla.
NY Times photo by Samel Aranda

Here are some extracts from a recent NY Times article “As Africans Surge to Europe’s Door, Spain Locks Down”:

“Ten years ago Spain spent more than 30 million euros building up the barriers around Melilla and Ceuta, its two enclaves surrounded by Morocco on the northern coast of Africa, which offer the only land borders between the promise of Europe and the despair of Africa. And for a while the investment seemed to work.

“But in the past year, large groups of sub-Saharan immigrants have been charging the rows of seven-yard-high chain-link fences here with increasing frequency, or trying to swim around them, believing with good reason that if they can just get past they will ultimately end up in Europe. They often end up injured, not just from falls and the newly laid concertina wire, but at the hands of the Moroccan and Spanish authorities trying to stop them.

“It is a question that has hounded Europe for years, as immigrants fleeing wars or simply wanting a better future have tried to break through its borders, sometimes dying in tiny boats headed for the Canary Islands, part of Spain, or the Italian island of Lampedusa, sometimes trying to walk from Turkey to Greece or Bulgaria. Or, as they are doing now, charging the fences of these enclaves, seeking out even the smallest doorways to Europe

“Even so, their excitement is hard to miss because they are well on their way to getting what they hoped for. Most have had brutal journeys and now will probably spend a year or more in the immigration center as their applications for asylum are processed. Few will get such status. But most will end up transferred to the mainland before being handed an order to leave Spain.

“Most cannot be deported because Spain does not have treaties with many of the countries they come from. So in the twist that has confounded Europe’s efforts to secure its borders for decades now, many of those who make it to Melilla and Ceuta will be largely free to remain in Spain or other European nations that offer them the prospect of better lives.

“Getting over the fences is not the only route into the enclaves. Experts say sub-Saharan women tend to come by boat. More recently, the enclaves have also attracted growing numbers of Syrians, who, because they look more like local Moroccans and often have some money, are able to buy or rent Moroccan passports and simply walk quietly across the border with other day workers.”

UPDATE: Here is the latest NY Times article on the topic, “Spain Struggles to Halt Migrants at Two Enclaves


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