Spain’s Walls of Shame

On the North coast of Morocco there are two cities that are actually part of the territory of the Spanish State: Ceuta and Melilla. They are known as “enclaves” because they are surrounded by Moroccan territory. Ceuta is on the other side of the Straits of Gibraltar to the town of Algeciras on the Spanish mainland and the British territory of Gibraltar. Melilla is a few hundred miles down the coast to the East, on the other side of the Mediterranean from the Spanish city of Almeria. Ceuta and Melilla have been part of Spain since the wars of the Reconquista (reconquest) five hundred years ago, when the Spanish Catholic Kingdoms of Castilla and Leon drove out the Arab, Muslim Moors from the Spanish mainland, where they hand been for 800 years previously. Even today in many places in Spain such as Granada and Almeria you can see huge castles from the Moorish times, a reminder that the border of Europe has not always been where it is now.

The Moroccan State has always claimed that Ceuta and Melilla should be part of Morocco and claims that Spain is being imperialistic by keeping them. Most of the North of Morocco was a Spanish colony in the early 20th Century, so the enclaves are seen as a legacy of this colonialism.

However this claim by Morocco seems to be more of a show than anything else, perhaps a way for the Moroccan government to appear anti-imperialist to the people, while it is in fact accepting millions of Euros a year from it’s former colonial occupiers. You would think that if a country wanted to take over a part of territory right next to it, it would do everything it could to make the border there easy to cross. But in fact Morocco is protecting the borders of Spain’s Enclaves with deadly force, and being paid by the E.U. to do so.

If migrants trying to enter Ceuta or Melilla manage to avoid getting rounded up and taken to Oujda, or shot at by Moroccan police near the Enclave borders, they are faced with an 18 meter high fence with Razor wire at the top. Razor wire is not the same as barbed wire, though it can look like it from far away. Barbed wire is relatively easy to climb over if you don’t touch the bits  with spikes, whereas razor wire is made out sharp edges all the way along, like a load of knives strung together.

If they managed to get over this fence, with a homemade ladder usually, and cutting their hands a lot, they are faced with another fence exactly the same. In the area between the two fences there are patrols of Spanish Guardia Civil (Civil Guard) who are military police, and so are heavily armed. The fences have heat sensors and CCTV all along them to alert the patrols. If the Guardia Civil catch migrants they either shot and kill them, or open up gates in the fences and chuck them back into Morocco. This is illegal, since the migrants are technically on Spanish territory and so should have the right to apply for asylum before being deported like this.

If migrants manage to not get caught in the time it takes to get over both fences, or three in the case of Melilla, then they are in Spanish territory and can apply for asylum. It used to be the case that as soon as they applied for asylum they were given a “yellow card” which gave them permission to get on the boat to mainland Europe and then either be granted asylum or just disappear into the underground if not. Now the Spanish government gives them a “red card” instead, which means they are just stuck there. This can still be better than being stuck in Morocco, because the amount of money to be made from begging or informal work is a lot higher, but they face attacks by Spanish fascist gangs and are kept in a state of dependency by state run charities like CEPI which allow the police in to round up people who have been denied asylum.

Nevertheless, migrants are determined to enter Ceuta and Melilla. Many risk drowning by trying to swim around the border fences, and indeed drowned bodies regularly turn up on the shores. It is also not uncommon for groups of around 300 migrants to team up and attack the border fences together. This happened famously in 2005, when 18 migrants died in Ceuta and 6 more a month later in Melilla. These events in 2005 got a lot of attention from the media, human rights groups, and the governments themselves, who increased the heights of the fences and the funding for border controls as a direct response.

But, although the English language media has not mentioned it anywhere that we can find, such mass stormings of the fences were not just a one-off. It happened again at Melilla during the time we were there, with over a dozen deaths, and then again in Spain a few weeks later. The storming of the fences by gangs of migrants is an incredibly brave collective action, as usually around 18 of them will die in the attempts, and only about the same amount will actually make it over. They show that migrants are organising amongst themselves to take radical collective direct action against the physical structure of the border itself, and so surely deserve the solidarity of anti-borders activists and anarchists in Europe.

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