Melilla, together with Ceuta, is where the Western Mediterranean migratory route ends, making it one of the entry doors to Europe from the African continent. Through these small autonomous cities there is a flow of people in transit who yearn to reach a place where their rights are not violated and where they can live a dignified and peaceful life. The two autonomous cities represent a peculiar and unique access in the possibilities of reaching European soil.
They are the only European territories that share a physical border with Africa. The gap of inequality marked by the nearly 10 km of border that separates Melilla from Morocco is one of the highest on the planet.
Spain and Morocco have signed a series of treaties on border control and migratory flows, demonstrating the clear policy of externalising borders that the EU is implementing to limit migratory flows from third countries.
There are currently several agreements on the readmission of foreigners and cooperation in maritime patrols and cross-border control.
The Moroccan police forces receive large grants from European Union funds to finance reinforcement and control at the border. With this money, not only are people in transit prevented from leaving Moroccan territory, but they are even abandoned in the Sahara desert, along Morocco's borders. This brutal practice, which is already common in Morocco's treatment of people in transit, has been repeatedly denounced by numerous human rights organizations.
At the border crossings, some asylum-seekers from Syria, Palestine, Yemen and other countries try to reach the international protection office at the Beni Enzar border crossing.
Many of them are forced to resort to mafias to obtain false Moroccan documents in order to enter Spanish soil and ask for asylum.
The Moroccan gendarmerie does not usually authorize people with Syrian passports to leave the country, making it very complicated to reach the international protection offices on the Spanish side.
Of the total asylum applications submitted in Melilla, only a small percentage are made at the border crossing.
Because of the colour of their skin, sub-Saharan people are unable to reach these offices due to the repression they suffer from the Moroccan gendarmerie. The few who can afford it, pay the networks of passers-by and try to cross hidden in vehicles, the rest, the great majority, are forced to take more risky routes to get to ask for international protection.
10 METERS OF INHUMANITY
Since the construction of the fence in Melilla in 1998, the EU has spent millions of euros on maintaining and reinforcing the security of what is now a 6-metre high triple wire wall with concertina wire and advanced systems for detecting people.
In the summer of 2020, construction began on the new fence in both Ceuta and Melilla, with a budget of 17 million euros (8 for Ceuta and 9 for Melilla). The new steel structure is 10 metres high and 2.5 metres wide, and at the top the concertina is replaced by a steel roller, also half a metre high. The concertinas do not disappear, they remain or move to the Moroccan side. In addition, the work consists of renovating the movement sensors and the fibre optic network, as well as installing facial recognition systems at the border posts.
Those who manage to get over the wire, if intercepted by the Spanish police, face the possibility of pushbacks. In a February 2020 ruling, the ECHR endorsed this practice, which is considered contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, simply because the people who suffer from it enter illegally.
THE MEDITERRANEAN MASS GRAVE
In 2019, 906 people arrived by sea in Melilla, 8 died in the attempt and 19 are still missing.
Many of the people who arrive in Melilla, swim in, a dangerous crossing that can take more than six hours.
On the other hand, some people take this dangerous route with anything that allows them to stay afloat. Many of them arrive at the Chafarinas Islands, an archipelago under Spanish rule that lies two miles off the Moroccan coast. In 2020, four bodies have been found off the coast of these islands up to September.
Due to the closure of borders because of the pandemic, many people who entered through the border crossings decided to undertake this difficult journey by swimming. Groups of children of different nationalities arrive every week on the beaches of Melilla. There is even talk of people who, seeing themselves locked up in the city in subhuman conditions, decide to return home by making the journey from Melilla to Morocco. We must also regret the death of three people in the first nine months of 2020.
THE HELPLESSNESS OF MINORS
The institutional abandonment in Melilla is very much reflected in the reality of the minors, most of them of Maghrebi origin, and who are under the legal guardianship of the autonomous city.
The older ones are housed in the Purísima centre, a former military fort, which has been refurbished to become one of the minors centers, where they live in overcrowded conditions, normally without hot water, with a shortage of food, and which has accumulated a long list of complaints and accusations of abuse over the years, related to its director and some of the guardians. The centre has 350 places but currently almost 1,000 children are staying there.
On the streets, these minors live with other people who are excluded from the system, such as the those who were previously under guardianship but are now overage and other young adults who are looking to get to Spain to have a decent life.
There are many people on the street in Melilla.
On the one hand, there are minors who, due to the living conditions they have to endure inside the Centres, decide to live on the streets.
On the other hand, there are the young people who have been exterminated, the great majority of whom are forced to live on the streets after reaching the age of 18, because during their stay in the Centres for minors they have not been able to obtain the necessary papers.
Finally, we find older people who try to find a life on the streets while trying to reach the mainland.
The vast majority of people who find themselves on the streets try to do Risky on a daily basis. Risky is the name given to the risky travel attempts they make as stowaways hiding in trucks or sneaking directly onto the boats heading for the peninsula.
TEMPORARY INMIGRANT RECEPTION CENTERS
There are two Temporary Inmigrant Reception Centres (CETIs) in Spain, one in Ceuta and the other one in Melilla.
These are centres that depend on the Ministry of Interior which "are designed as provisional first reception facilities and are intended to provide basic social services and benefits to the group of immigrants and asylum seekers who arrive in the city while the identification and medical check-up procedures are being carried out prior to any decision on the most appropriate resource based on their administrative situation in Spain".
The one in Melilla was built in 1998, with capacity for 480 people, although with time and the increase in migratory flows its capacity has been increased to 782 spaces. However, since the refugee crisis of 2015 it has never been below its capacity, and during the confinement due to the Covid 19 pandemic, up to 1,600 people have been crowded inside.
Despite various and constant complaints and denouncing by organizations, associations and even the ombudsman, the living conditions inside continue to be deplorable and inhumane, and the transfers to the mainland which are necessary to decongest it are carried out on a piecemeal basis.
MELILLA IN TIMES OF PANDEMIC
With the start of the pandemic the situation in Melilla worsened enormously; the border with Morocco was closed on 13 March at 6 a.m., with scarcely any warning. This caused hundreds of people to be trapped on both sides, turning the city into a pressure cooker with many people surviving in extreme conditions.
Initially, as temporary shelter for those people who were trapped and for those who were on the streets, people were placed, first in a sports centre and then in the V Pino, some fairground stalls that did not meet any acceptable minimum to live with dignity, with a high level of unhealthiness. Finally, the city's Plaza de Toros was fitted out, a space that did not meet the conditions for a dignified welcome, with the minimum health requirements or the social and hygienic requirements demanded by the State.
On the other hand, the departures from CETI to the peninsula came to a standstill. During the state of alarm, the transfers to the peninsula were scarce, leaving the vast majority of people confined and overcrowded, also with the impossibility of complying with the measures required by the health authorities. Even after the state of alarm was lifted, when the rest of the population had the right to go out, CETI residents remained confined and without permission to leave the Centre.