Morocco, Ceuta and Melilla: a failed immigration policy

Looking at the map, it is possible to see with total accuracy that Ceuta and Melilla belong to Morocco. In fact, they are located in North Africa and on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Nevertheless, they are named as two autonomous cities of Spain since 1995, when the Spanish government gave to the two cities an independent status. They became two territorial entities with legislative autonomy and broad powers.

The current King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, still does not want to admit the European legal standards and the lawful boundaries of the European Union which clearly integrate Ceuta and Melilla within the Spanish regime. However, beyond the geographical and legal plan, Ceuta and Melilla continue to be linked to Morocco due to the phenomenon of immigration. Hassan II, King of Morocco from 1961 until his death on 23 July 1999, described his country as a “tree that has its roots in Africa but its branches extend into Europe”. This observation is still alive with the current Moroccan immigration: each root represents a group of immigrants (men, women and children) who travel to European Union countries to find work and build a better future. According to the Eurostat of the European Commission, Spain occupies the top places for a high presence of Moroccan immigrants. The “Conseil de la Communauté Marocaine à l’Étranger” shows that in Europe, there are about 3.5 million Moroccans of which almost 20% are located on Spanish soil.

For this reason, Spain decided to build two barriers of 3 feet high: 8 km long in Ceuta and 12 km long in Melilla. These walls separate the two Spanish autonomous cities from Morocco. They remind the Berlin Wall built on 13 August 1961, by East Germany to divide it from West Germany. The wire mesh of division between the two countries is gory; it is also formed by many sharp blades to avoid that immigrant’s climb over the enclosure[1]. These blades are, so-called in Spanish, “cuchillas” and were planned by the former Prime Minister of Spain, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, in 2005. In the same year, the international organization “Médecins Sans Frontières” confirmed more than 50 immigrants because they presented various wounds and bruises caused by their attempt to seek freedom, hope and comprehension[2]. The Spanish (like the rest of the European countries but also outside Europe, such as Australia) find it difficult to accept immigrants who do not have a residence permit or all that is required to be considered full-fledged citizens.

Rubber bullets and tear gas are other practices used against immigrants forced to take refuge in the forests adjacent to the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla waiting for the best time to organize an assault, a massive shift of the barrier. Immigration from Morocco to Spain is increasing with more and more people maltreated by violent repression and continuous rejections. The wounded arrive daily in the hospitals of Ceuta and Melilla with lesions and cuts of various kinds. In particular, the immigrants present legs and heads broken by the brutality of the security forces guarding the border and ready to launch an attack. It is truly a tragedy; it is a wrong policy of containment of irregular immigration because it clashes with the non-recognition of human rights. This is the point on which it is important to focus. Despite being considered the sixth African economic power and the eighth largest economy in the Arab League, Morocco or Maghreb which means “sunset” in Arabic, has serious internal deficiencies regarding health, rural development, and education. For several years, Italian Caritas supports various projects to ensure education to many children which live with poor families. Various Spanish associations that deal with child protection, identify the presence of millions of children (especially boys) injured during the passage of the barriers. Although the infant mortality rate is decreasing in Morocco (in 2012 it decreased by 30%), several deaths of children occur every day because they try to cross the barriers[3]. The Spanish military police, Guardia Civil, does not stop in front of anyone. It keeps firing rubber bullets against boys and girls of any age, pregnant women or females in extreme anxiety to save their girls from a forced and unexpected marriage. In Morocco, every year there are about 30,000 child brides. In 2008, the sheikh Moroccan Mohamed El Maghraoui, authorized by a fatwa (an Islamic religious ruling or a scholarly opinion on a matter of Islamic law), the marriage of girls just over 9 years of age. He then revived the same judgment in 2011.




Why not give to these vulnerable people the opportunity to change their lives and that of their family? Why not try to explain to them how to do that?

On 4 March 2014, the website of “Al Jazeera”, the most popular television station in Qatar, told the adventure of Cyril, a young neo-law graduate from Cameroon. He decided to undertake a journey to Ceuta, in search of a bright future for his career. The European Union does not give the impression to have helped enough the improvement of the situation. It financed the construction of the two barriers with a considerable sum even going against Morocco which is fully opposed because it considers Ceuta and Melilla integral part of its territory. Moreover, last May, Spain asked more money to Brussels to strengthen border control. This highlights a clear adverse climate towards immigrants[4].

The Sub-Saharan represent another high percentage of immigration in the coast of Ceuta and Melilla. For example, in March 2014, about 150 Sub-Saharan migrants tried to cross the fence but only 20 succeeded. At the dawn of the same day, another 700 were rejected by the Civil Guard. In early November, the Spanish Interior Minister, Jorge Fernández Díaz, announced his intention to create offices to assist asylum seekers. The Minister would also ensure an international protection in the borders of the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in Morocco. According to Díaz, the new structures will be clearly identified and will have the main purpose of giving asylum seekers the information needed to submit an application for asylum. They will be constituted by lawyers and interpreters to help and identify asylum seekers in Spain that will prove to be eligible for the request. Asylum applications will be resolved, as is the case so far, by the Office of Asylum and Refugees of the Ministry of Interior within 8 days, during which those who have submitted an application, will remain in the territory of Ceuta and Melilla. Moreover, migrants will stay in the centers or in private accommodation, in case of need or lack of beds.

Surely, it is a proposal but, for the moment, it does not provide glimmers of light. The centers are not enough and they do not have sufficient suitable facilities. The European agency Frontex wants the barrier to be raised up to 6 feet tall. Melilla, from the port of hope, is becoming the port of despair. Last February, 15 migrants drowned trying to swim across the strip that separates Morocco from Melilla, but also from Ceuta[5]. First, there was the sea, now there is also the existence of a solid wall that continuously creates animosity between Morocco and Spain[6].

Another hostility created by the Moroccans: according to a report by Human Rights Watch, the police in Spain uses to much force at the time of the expulsion; but on the other side of the wall the Moroccan police welcomes those who have failed to pass the fence with sticks and batons. Violation of human rights, lack of awareness, knowledge and listening: typical features of the many resolutions that are made to curb the flow of migration. At the end, they do not find any way out. There are only climbs and winding streets where the obtainment of a community policy regarding immigration characterizes even a very difficult peak to achieve.



Master’s degree in International Relations (LUISS “Guido Carli”)



[1] L. Lampugnani, Immigrazione Marocco-Spagna: i muri di Ceuta e Melilla, “International Business Time”, 7 March 2014 –

[2] Anon., Oltre 500 immigrati abbandonati al loro destino nel deserto del sud Marocco dopo l’espulsione da Ceuta e Melilla, “Medici Senza Frontiere”, 7 October 2005 –

[4] X. Ferrer-Gallardo, A. Planet-Contreras, Ceuta and Melilla: Euro – African borderscapes, “AGORA Magazine”, October 2012 –

[5] T. Ramos, Unos 400 immigrantes intentan un nuevo salto de la valla de Melilla, “El País”, 17 November 2014 –

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