When I was by asked by Alternattiva Demokratika Zghazagh-Green Youth to take part in the seminar “Crossing the Mediterranean” in Melilla, the Spanish enclave in Morocco, I was really enthusiastic about it, it sounded like the ideal opportunity to discover what irregular immigration is like in another South European country. And I was not deceived. Having studied irregular immigration in Malta fulltime for the last six months, it was indeed an amazing experience.
To cut a long story short, in Malta the majority of “our” immigrants arrive by boat leaving from Libya, they then are rescued by the Maltese army if they are in distress at sea and then spend 18 months in prison-like facilities, once they are released, either they are granted refugee status and must try to make a living in the Maltese society that has xenophobic tendencies without any legal means to settle elsewhere; or worse, some asylum seekers get no status and are waiting to be repatriated. In Melilla, it was a change of scenario, immigrants risk their life to cross the huge double- fence (another kind of border than the rough sea) with fragile self- made ladders and then can move freely but are still under the Damocles sword of deportation. What is better I cannot judge. But still immigrants have to make a choice and there is no doubt that the harder to cross the Spanish border becomes, the more immigrants try their chance in Europe via Malta.
At the gates of the EU, both my country and Melilla are, after all, sort of “reception centres” for people fleeing persecution or poverty. However, to me, Melilla was nothing more than a cute small citadel surrounded by military camps and then the sadly well- known fence. And actually there really were soldiers everywhere, from the youth residence tothe night bars, thereby I felt like the only reason to be of this city was the guarding the border. Even an inhabitant of Melilla who joined us during the seminar was studying to be policeman! Guess it was nice to be there for a short while, but imagine living there for a lifetime. The youngsters over there seemed so much in thirst for what is outside their town.
Hence, the atmosphere is the city was kind of strange. On the one hand, I cannot say that the people are turning a blind eye to the border issue, but on the other hand they look really laid back; it may be due to their crossroad location, once you are so used to it, how can you be worried by people living and working in irregularity around you, by hair-raising testimonies of young women who left everything behind them to come here, and of the public eye constantly watching you since six men attempting to cross the border where shot?
The participants of the seminar somehow stuck to this behaviour, in-between the sessions, we disconnected from the reality. It meant getting to know Finnish humour, or drinking delicious mint teas, listening to the Palestinians making fun of themselves, tasting Moroccan pastries, being entertained by the prep- team’s “energizers”, going to dance all night long to awful Spanish music; all this in the theatre of the dramatic phenomenon of forced migration… This perhaps reflects the two sides of a Youth exchange, managing to be extremely serious, to have productive and captivating debates during the day, to write a serious statement at the end; and to party and create new friendships in the evening. And I enjoyed it this way.