Melilla, along with Ceuta, are two autonomous cities if Spanish state located in North Africa. They are the only land border between Europe and Africa and for this very reason these cities have been at the centre of migration routes over time and with increasing intensity in recent years. Ceuta and Melilla are the closest ‘Europe’ to Africa. Millions of impoverished people uprooted by civil wars, coups and imperialist interventions across sub-Saharan Africa leave their homeland every year and attempt to cross to Europe by any means possible. For some, crossing this fence is the most realistic route. Ceuta and Melilla are to Spain what Evros is to Greece.
The fence in Melilla in its original form was built in 1995 and 10 years later it was upgraded to its current form. It cost EUR 33 million and consists of 11 kilometres of a double fence, 6 metres high, reinforced with barbed wire, with observation posts and a road between the fences covered by cameras and motion and noise sensors. Its purpose is to prevent the entry of unwanted persons who manage to get there. Attempts by migrants and refugees to cross the fence take the form of mass attempts by as many participants as possible, with the aim of each attempt being to get at least a few through the fence. Few achieve anything more than a few steps on Spanish soil before being arrested and deported back to Morocco. A few hundred each year succeed, but most fail and those who are caught are usually deported hundreds of kilometres away.
One such attempt took place on 24 June 2022. It lasted about two hours and, according to official reports, 18 people were killed on the spot, another 15 succumbed to their injuries in the following days, while 133 managed to cross to Melilla. According to the same sources, around 50 Spanish border guards and more than 100 Moroccan members of the security forces were injured during the clashes. Of the few who managed to cross the fence, most were arrested and deported again on the spot. An unspecified number, certainly in the hundreds, surrendered to the Moroccan authorities, while the majority retreated to the surrounding hills.
The following day, the Spanish Prime Minister congratulated the Moroccan and Spanish forces for the way they had acted. This has been preceded in recent times by hard-hitting statements with extreme anti-immigration content. At the NATO summit held in Madrid in the past few days, the Spanish state raised ‘irregular’ immigration as one of the threats to security on the southern side of NATO. The aim is to further upgrade the fence, along the lines of Fortress Europe.
This incident is neither the first nor the last. The fence does not prevent the gathering of the desperate looking at it, the scorched earth left behind by imperialism has in no way returned, the divisions sown by the Europeans have devastating consequences for the lives of millions of people, many of whom will eventually attempt the crossing.
The role of the Moroccan state in all this is very dirty. Morocco is being rewarded with hundreds of millions of euros in funds from the Spanish state and the EU to play the role of frontrunner, acting as a first line of defence against the waves of desperate people. Often, the Moroccan authorities raid the wooded hills around Melilla where those who are about to attempt to cross the fence take refuge, confiscating or destroying their few possessions, and those they capture are beaten and dispersed to other towns hundreds of kilometres away. A similar, particularly violent raid is reported to have taken place on the morning of 24 June, and today, just days after the massacre, the Moroccan state is rushing to bury – literally – the crime, denying forensic examinations to the victims and speeding up burial procedures without any further formalities, nor is there any possibility of identifying the victims.
Amnesty International has denounced Morocco for having in some cases disappeared people by abandoning them in the middle of the desert without food or water.
The European Union knowingly empowers authoritarian regimes, equips and funds them to do the dirty work just outside the fences. Nobody asks what they are doing, all that matters is that the desperate stay as far away from the gates of Europe as possible. Fences will never solve any of the problems that have driven millions of people away from their homes. The Moroccan and Spanish states have acted together, in full cooperation and despite the recent crisis in their relations. The Melilla massacre was carried out by members of the Moroccan and Spanish security forces, but the EU bears the main responsibility as the perpetrator.
When the ‘advanced’ societies of the West needed slaves at the firing line of the machine for their prosperity, fences were not needed at the borders. Now, however, the misery imposed by the power of the exploiters is so widespread that those who are left over are immediately exterminated at the water or land borders. This does not stop the flows of desperate people putting themselves and their families in this mortal danger and that says a lot.
The same thing happens progressively whenever we stand up and cross sovereignty barriers and within borders. The arrogance of states is indiscriminately targeted when they feel threatened or hurt and this is now the status quo.
Refugees and migrants are people who are in the same position as us on the scales of inequality. That is why we have no choice but to stand by their side and fight for our lives with them.
SOLIDARITY TO MIGRANTS AND REFUGEES