Now Syrians scale fence at Spain's African 'fortress'

On the Spanish-Moroccan border in Africa, refugees pay smugglers, bribe guards to cross into European enclave.

Jose Colon | | Humanitarian crises, War & Conflict, Politics, Human Rights, Europe

Melilla, Spain - It used to be mainly African migrants who would try to jump the fence into Melilla, the tiny Spanish enclave in the northeast of Morocco, as they sought passage to Europe through the Mediterranean port.

More recently they have been replaced by refugees from Syria, Iraq and other war-torn places - and there are hundreds of them.

In 2014, 6,000 asked for asylum in this Spanish enclave but in 2015 the number is expected to be higher.

At the end of their arduous journeys they arrive in the Moroccan city of Nador and face the six metre-high, triple-layered barbed-wire fences that surround Melilla, a "European fortress".

To get to the other side they must pay smugglers who help them avoid police controls because Moroccan authorities prevent them crossing and reaching the asylum office where they can seek help.

Women, children and men wander along the border crossing in Beni Enzar, looking for the best deal to take them through. Often families are unable to cross together and are forced to separate, some falling victim to smugglers who hold them hostage to guarantee payment. Some refugees arrive in Melilla using fake Moroccan passports for which they pay large sums. 

Working the border has become a lucrative business. Only those who can afford to pay a high price to the criminal networks will be able to cross.

Yet getting across the border is not the end of drama. Those who manage to enter Melilla arrive at a decrepit immigrant reception centre, the CETI. Here refugees are housed in a shelter designed for 660 adults, but which is houses 1,800 people, of whom 500 are children. 

The refugees remain at CETI from one to four months. About 200 are transported to Malaga each Wednesday, as long as they can provide the correct paperwork.

Most  plan to continue their journey onwards to northern Europe in search of a better life, conditions and peace.

Follow Jose Colon on Twitter@JColonToscano


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