« We entered Ceuta on foot, surrounding the barrier that marks the border between the two countries. We had a lot of hope. » says Daniel, a Cameroonian living in Beni Mellal and who succeeded in entering the Spanish enclave with his wife and his two years old boy. A similar wave occurred a month earlier, when hundreds of migrants had reached to Ceuta swimming. Nonetheless, statistics in this region have never reached a number this high of migrants. In fact, Ceuta authorities estimated that between 8 000 and 10 000 people coming from Morocco got to the Spanish enclave, marking a second wave of immigration attempts’ to overcome the enclave.

The protagonists of this “swimmers crisis” are mostly Moroccans, while few dozen come from sub-Saharan Africa. Many Moroccans are very young. There is a remarkably high number of unaccompanied minors, some of whom are between 7 and 9 years old. Authorities also counted many fathers and mothers with their children strapped on them.

“Also, many young people from Beni Mellal’s region went to Tangier to try to pass through the enclave,” tells again Daniel. In fact, Beni Mellal’s area is considered a cradle of immigration towards European countries, which always attract new candidates for emigration. Nonetheless, the main cities of origin of these migrants are Tetouan, Nador, Fnideq (a city that is just 100 meters away from the enclave of Ceuta). These cities’ urban economy was essentially based on the trades and exchanges with the two enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. Indeed, after the closing of the borders, for more than a year the trade between the two regions was hit by an unprecedented crisis, while many families lived thanks to the smuggling of goods from Ceuta.

After the closing of the land border, the crossing by swimming or walking along the sea – when border checks are absent – is currently the only way for irregular migration’s candidates to reach the Spanish enclaves, whilst before the migrants hid in cars, ferries and trailers. Moreover, the crossing by swimming is also an opportunity for young people with no financial means, because, unlike the crossing through continental Spain, no smugglers are involved, an aspect that makes the trip much cheaper

“Unfortunately, we were sent back by the Guardia Civil, after waiting for almost four hours in the beach of Tarajat. We were so sorry. ” Daniel continues. Migrants arriving to Ceuta have very few chances of staying there. Of the 8000 migrants arrived to the enclave, more than 6500 were sent back to Morocco. According to the bilateral agreement of readmission, signed between Morocco and Spain on February 13, 1992, article 1 says that: «the authorities of the requested State (Morocco) will readmit the citizens of third countries who have passed through their territory in order to reach the requesting State (Spain)”. The Spanish Government can send back migrants who reach his country in an irregular way. Unfortunately, the risk of being sent back is not the only one. Many migrants do not know what to expect from the journey and ignore the risks and consequences of these crossings, which include incarceration, lethal injuries and even drowning to death.

The main goal of the project SafeJourney is to contrast irregular migration by raising awareness in local communities, both Moroccan and sub-Saharan, through an information campaign concerning the risks of this type of migration. In this regard, the Mobile Unit – one of the local services of the project – launched the operation “migrant solidarity”, started in the town of Beni Mellal last month, and which will see another intervention on the 16th, 17th and 18th June in Tangier. The operation targets the migrant population of Tangier, and will include awareness-raising activities on the risks of irregular migration and practical information concerning services for legal and humanitarian support. This information has been gathered within an information pack that may provide useful instructions to more than 100 migrants coming from different African countries, and to which vouchers will also be distributed.

Ibtisam Ektarabi, SafeJourney Project Communication Officer

Image Credit © Lagencia/imago images