Only ten kilometres separate Morocco from Tarifa on the Spanish coast. It is easy to see why the lure of the promised land from the African side tempts many migrants into trying the deceptively short crossing.
Powerful currents and strong winds have doomed hundreds of lives here. Yet, the combined efforts of Madrid and Rabat to curb these attempts have borne fruit. Spain says that, in the last 18 months, human trafficking has fallen by 24 percent on the Morocco-Andalucia route and by 55 percent between the African coast and the Canary islands. But the migrants have not gone away, they have simply tried elsewhere, hence the growing pressure on Ceuta and Melilla, the two very security-conscious Spanish enclaves in Morocco.
Typically, desperate people from sub-Saharan Africa hide in nearby forests and come out at night to try their luck with the aid of makeshift ladders. Many are intercepted by round-the-clock patrols before they get there. Spanish authorities estimate there have been 12,000 attempts to scale the barrier this year and 55,000 individual or collective ones in 2004. On Tuesday night, around 400 people tried to scale the three-metre-high fence around Melilla in one of the biggest mass break-ins. Half of them made it.
Around 40 were injured in the chaos along with five policemen. The swelling population of asylum-seekers has put pressure on the enclaves temporary accommodation centres. But at least those inside have some hope. Those left outside the fence do not. “I’m being excluded,” said one woman who was intercepted. “I’m from the DR Congo, we’re at war, I fled here and now I’m being turned away with my children, just like that.” Of course, such individual stories do not reach the ears of the authorities. For them, the only immediate solution is to make the barrier harder to climb.