These young men from sub-Saharan Africa are hiding out. Having all ready tried but failed to get over a border fence separating the Spanish enclave of Melilla from Morocco, they are waiting for another chance.
Without permission we interviewed them.
“There are plain-clothed police everywhere,” one of them warns.
They are edgy…but determined. They have crossed the Sahara from Mali, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger.
And they are not going to be put off by a few scars they bear from failed attempts to scale Melilla’s perimeter fence.
Some have been waiting in the hills here, surviving on local charity, for years.
Claude Guillaume Dibonde is from Cameroon, “It is not easy,” he says. “They arrest us when we try to climb the fence. They beat us as well. We live in misery. Misery! It is not easy for a human being to live like this. We have no choice, but to carry on. We can’t go back. We have left so many people in misery behind to search for a better a life. We have put all that behind us.”
Toure Lassin from the Ivory Coast says, “I have to take this risk. And if I don’t get in, I will stay here until I do. I’ll stay here until my hair turns white. I have to get in to Europe. It is the only thing that will change my life. Europe. Yes.”
Suddenly someone sees the police in the area and they up and leave.
We had only just finished our interviews and had planned to climb up to their camp up the hill, but with the police close by it was too risky for them to stay here.
A couple of minutes later and we come across a police patrol.
They arrested several migrants and with visible brutality.
Moroccan police seize camera equipment if you film them during an operation.
All we could get were some snatched shots from a mobile phone.
The tiny Spanish enclave of Melilla has an area of 12 square kilometres. It and its neighbour Ceuta are the only places where Europe and Africa share a land-border.
Hence the fence…seven metres high and in triplicate.
Largely paid for by the European taxpayer, it stretches over 10 kilometres.
It bristles with radar and cameras and there are plans to extend razor wire across its whole length. Even if you could climb up it, you are unlikely to make it over on your own.
In September this year hundred of migrants made an all out assault on the fence. A number made it over. Others were arrested and sent back to Morocco.
Around a hundred made it to Melilla’s temporary reception centre.
It holds around a thousand people. It was built for half that number.
Everyone who makes it into Melilla should, in theory, be sent to the reception centre by the Spanish police.
Sekou and several travelling with him got here on November 5th.
Sekou Traore from Guinea-Conakry told us about the tragedy of his friend. “You know the fence. It is high…well he got some way up it and then he fell. He died at the bottom. When we came here there were more than 320 people on the fence. 120 got through, then the Spanish police came and expelled more than 30.”
Hilaire Fomezou from Cameroon spent two years living on the mountain, “I know what it is to suffer. I ate anything, sifting through bins to find food. It hurts me to think about it. When I think of my friends who are still there I thank God that I am here. I am very well treated here. And I promise that I will fight for my friends and family. I’ll do whatever I can, whatever it takes, I am going to secure my future and my children’s future. I will do it.”
Another migrant from Mali said, “I came from Mali to escape the war. Both my parents are dead. I have a little sister left, but my brother, he was killed in the massacres. I have already lost so much, I am not scared of dying. I am not scared of dying to get to Europe.”
Among those who don’t make it over the fence, some take their chances at the Beni-Ensar crossing between Morocco and Melilla.
Authorities use listening devices to detect the heart-beats of people hiding in vehicles.
People go to incredible lengths to get across. The authorities showed us video of a man being extricated after hiding in a car bumper.
Spain’s representative in Melilla, Abdelmalik El Barkani says that Europe should better coordinate its immigration policy.
“I would like Europe to get more involved in this,” he says, “This is not just a border between Morocco and Spain, but between Africa and Europe. It is also important that we cooperate more with the countries where migrants are coming from. Above all we have fight the people traffickers.
The best known human rights activist in Melilla, José Palazón is president of the organisation Prodein. He believes we need to radically rethink this issue.
“I think Europe’s immigration policy is a disaster,” he says. “It serves no purpose other than to cause suffering and deaths. We can put up barbed wire and obstacles, but they will continue to try. We talk about the people traffickers, but all we are doing is increasing the price people have to pay to them. So, far from finding a solution to the problem, we are promoting this trade.”
The next day we caught up again with the people we had met at the reception centre.
They were registering at Melilla’s Police head-quarters; an essential step before possibly relocating to Spain or somewhere else in Europe.
Franklin Diko from Gabon said, “We are under the rain for an hour and a half now, just to look for a laisser-passer to go to Madrid or Barcelona. But we don’t know if we are going to travel this morning. We pray to God to do something for us soon, so the European Union can please help us. We are suffering for it.”
While they wait in the rain, they ask us to go and help their friends on the mountain.
We go and pay them another visit.
They show us one of the places where they sleep. It offers little protection from the rain and cold.
Some have had another go at the fence that night, but without success. Others have been arrested.
Andrew Kamaha from Gabon says, “We are not here because we love Europe so much. We are here because we need to help our families. I don’t want to spend 15 to 20 years in Europe. If I can get enough money to open a business at home, I will do it. Europe, for me, would give me another chance in life. Because now I have no chances, zero. I am not lying. No chances at all. First of all Europe recognizes human rights, even if there is racism. I could put up with that. Here we’ve seen everything. People have spat on us. All that I want is to succeed in life.”
Ronni Abas, who is also from Gabon says, “we really we need help. We are crying and praying a lot and we wonder whether anyone will come and save us one day. But we don’t know.”