Try Red Pepper in print with our pay-as-you-feel subscription. You decide the price, from as low as £2 a month.

More info ×

Ceuta and Melilla: Europe’s wall of shame

In the last week of September 2005, the true image of Fortress Europe entered our living rooms: black people hanging from barbed wire, laying down with broken arms an legs, bleeding and desperately asking for help. Since 27 September, when it is said that al least 1,000 tried to cross the 3 to 6-meter fence that separates Morocco from Melilla - a Spanish territory in the North African coast - similar images, if not worse, have been exposing the consequences of EU immigration policies.

November 1, 2005
3 min read

The images of sub-Saharan Africans trying to enter Spain is nothing new. Nor is the rhetoric of “avalanches”, “assaults”, “waves” and “saturation”. Death is not new either. According to several NGOs, thousands of people have died trying to cross the Strait of Gibraltar in the last few years. Nor is police brutality – almost 25 per cent of those treated by Medecins Sans Frontieres in the region between April 2003 and August 2005 had injuries directly related to police violence. But the situation in recent weeks shows that the situation of immigrants on the southern borders of Europe seems to be more desperate than ever.

Spain, Morocco and human rights

For years, the Spanish and European authorities have been putting pressure on the Moroccan state to control its own borders and put an end to the encampments where thousands of sub-Saharans desperate to cross the fence or get on a patera (boat to cross the Strait) are concentrated. In the last few months, the Moroccan police force has increased its harassment of the encampments. This, according to CEAR, one of the Spanish organisations working with refugees, is what has led to the current situation and the mass crossings.

The immediate reaction of the Spanish government to this situation was to send the army to Ceuta and Melilla and demand that Morocco enforced a bilateral agreement signed in 1992 by which Morocco is to accept the repatriation of all immigrants coming into Spain from their territory. Needless to say, as MSF reminds us, this treaty is contrary to all international agreements regarding human rights.

Faced with the pressure, Morocco accepted the “repatriated” immigrants and agreed to send them by bus to the Algerian border, where they would be sent back to their countries of origin. Problem solved. The European leaders were happy with Morocco’s response and hoped the story would die away.

Mobile phones expose the truth

However, a few days later some NGOs started receiving desperate phone calls from those same immigrants who were supposed to be on their way to the Algerian border. In those phone calls, they talked about being in a bus for days without food or water; others called from the middle of the desert, where they were abandoned by the Moroccan authorities. On 7 October, MSF found the first contingent of 500 sub-Saharan Africans abandoned near El Aouina-Souatar, in a desert area to the south of Morocco, with no access to food, water or medical attention. Other NGOs reported they were following buses which were not going where they were supposed to, and the Polisario Front, in Western Sahara, reported they had found at least 40 sub-Saharans in their territory. In the end, the pressure from the NGOs and other international bodies forced the Moroccan authorities to take responsibility for the abandoned immigrants and start a true process of repatriation.

It is difficult to imagine how this will be done, however, since only Mali and Senegal have agreements with Morocco to accept returned migrants, and most sub-Saharans get rid of their passports as soon as they approach Europe to avoid being deported. With the number of people waiting on Moroccan soil to cross over to Europe estimated at 30.000, even after the events of the last few weeks, it seems clear that this issue is here to stay.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art

Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs

Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox

Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power

The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced

India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya

North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero

The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava

France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati

This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help

PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank

Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media

I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to

We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS

Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank

Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland

Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones

The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya

The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.

An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now

The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee


7