Melilla is a city in Moroccan territory that belongs to Spain. Historically, it was not more than a military settlement, but in the second half of the XX century the city grew up to become the commercial port it is today. In spite of this evolution, Melilla still maintains a strong connection with the colonial past and furthermore with Spain’s fascist history, as most of the generals who were part of the Coup d’Etat of 1936 passed most of their military lives in the Spanish Moroccan colonies. Proof of that is the high number of monuments and streets dedicated to the Franco Regime, that you can still see today around Melilla.
As is its border, the only existing terrestrial border (apart from Ceuta) between Africa and Europe, often considered an easy point of entrance to the EU. Due to this, the city experiences a strong migratory pressure since the late nineties.
This is the reason why the Spanish government built the famous Melilla fence in 1998, which was later expanded in 2005 and 2007, turning Melilla into an open air prison for “irregular” migrants.
To keep the migrants under control, in 1999 the government built the CETI (Centro de Estancia Temporal para Inmigrantes), a center with capacity for 480 people. All the “irregular” migrants in Melilla have to be hosted in this center. Its actual population is currently around 1300 people, because of the frequent jumps or strikes to the fence in the past months as well as other irregular border crossings (e.g. fake passports, hidden in cars – see below). Apart from food and a place to sleep, entering the CETI also means entering the bureaucratic process of registration, oficially know as “la orden de expulsion del territorio nacional”, the expulsion order from national territory. The government organizes ferries every week, known as «salida» amongst the migrants. These boats transport a number of around 80 migrants from the CETI to the Spanish mainland, to Malaga or Almeria. Upon arriving, migrants have permission to stay legally for two or three months on Spanish territory, and an NGO hosts them for that period. After that they remain illegally on Spanish territory and they can easily become victims of police raids, end up in detention centers, and be deported afterwards.
There is a variety of communities in Melilla and their situations are very different. This refers to their legal status as well as the most common ways of crossing the border:
Sub-Saharan Africans: A small number of them arrive by boat or by other means, but the big majority enters the city by jumping the fence. They are the least fortunate amongst the migrants. Many of them don’t have any other choice – meaning money to pay for the crossing by boat or hidden in a car – than to camp in Gourougou Mountain, between the cold and the Moroccan police raids, waiting for their moment to strike. They are also the most famous of the migrants because of their spectacular way of entering Europe, but actually just 20% of migrants in Melilla enter this way.
The main Sub-Saharian communities in Melilla are from Cameroon and Mali, as well as from Guinea Conakry, Cote d’Ivoir, Nigeria, Gambia and Senegal.
Syrians: They are the majority in the CETI now. They are escaping from the war and the chaos that Europe and the European Union helped to create in the Middle East in the last years. A big percentage belongs to the Syrian middle class that has enough money to escape from the war, buy a plane ticket to Morocco or Algeria and then cross to Melilla. Many of them are Kurdish, from the region of Rojava and the city of Kobane, an actual war zone. Their main way of entering Melilla is by illegally buying a Moroccan Passport for around 2000 €, because Moroccans can legally visit Melilla and enter through regular Border checkpoints. Others pay similar amounts to be smuggled in through other ways.
Algerians: They are smaller in number and lots of them don’t have the right to enter the CETI because they don’t have Passports. In that case, and because of suspicion of being Moroccans that try to sneak in by claiming Algerian nationality, the state denies the entrance to a large number of them in the CETI. At the same time no other nationality has to show their passport in order to be admitted. Many of them sleep in “chabulas” – slums – near the CETI waiting to be allowed inside. Migrants who are not registered in the CETI are not included in the salidas to the Spanish mainland. The Algerians that do reach the Spanish mainland are normally immediately taken to a CIE (Centro de Intenamiento de Extranjeros), a detention center for foreigners, and deported as soon as their nationality has been proven. This is one reason why many Algerians don’t carry original documents on them.
Moroccans: As they belong to a country that has a physical border with Spain, they don’t have the right to be hosted in the CETI, and if they are intercepted by the cops, they get deported immediately. Moroccan citizens from the neighboring cities of Beni Enzar and Nador have a special visa allowing them to enter Melilla freely during the day. They are, however, not allowed to spend the night.
Minors: There is also a fairly big number of unaccompanied minors living in Melilla. The majority is from Morocco, crossing the border by either running through official border checkpoints escaping the authorities or by swimming into Melilla. At night they try to sneak onto container ships leaving towards Malaga or Almeria at the port by hiding in or between the containers or by climbing onto them from the water. Many of them are officially accommodated in “La Purisima” but prefer to live in the street or in chabulas due to the harsh punishments and mistreatments they receive here by some of the educators.