Melilla – Gateway to Europe

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Melilla and Ceuta, two Spanish enclaves in northern Morocco, have recently been subjected to a lot of pressure by hundreds of Sub-Saharans seeking refuge or asylum in the European Union. The reaction of the Spanish  and Moroccan authorities resulted in a series of deaths and major Human Rights violations. Under these circumstances , FYEG considered Melilla to be the most suitable location for the seminar entitled “ Crossing the Mediterranean – Youth Dialogue on Human Rights” that was held between 21st – 29th January 2006.

Melilla could be described as a drop of Europe on the African soil; a charming city that strikes not through glamour, but through naturalness. With very few tourists, it looks rather unspoiled and quiet. It’s a place where different religions (Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews) live together without any major conflicts. They all enjoy the status of being on “the safe side”, far from the misery of those waiting for their only chance to flee to Europe. Even the ifferences in terms of well-being become obvious as soon as you cross the border to Morocco.
Still, there is a feeling of pressure due to the pregnant military presence. Barbed wire, high-tech surveillance equipment, armed soldiers and the refugee center are just few of the elements that give the impression of a city under siege. However, the “war” is carried out at the borders, and within the city life apparently follows its normal course.

Challenges
Recent events shocked the international community and brought Melilla and Ceuta in the headlines of newspapers all over Europe. The massive break attempts at the border took Spain by surprise and the authorities found themselves overwhelmed by the large numbers of “desperados” seeking asylum or refuge in Europe. The 6-meter-tall double fence turned out to be deadly for tens of Sub-Saharans who had less then 3 minutes to cross it. Although neither Spain nor Morocco took responsibility for these victims, one thing is clear: these people were denied several major rights, such as the free access to juridical procedures; Spain recurred to mass deportation without analyzing the applications individually and Morocco abandoned the refugees at the edge of the desert, without providing them with the basic means of survival.

Even though the reaction from different NGOs was strong, the EU’s migration policies seemed to be directed in a wrong direction. Instead of building bridges, Europe is building walls. The fence is no more than a harmful artificial barrier, which deepens the gap between the two sides and does nothing to improve the condition of these immigrants. It is becoming clear that fences are not a solution, as they increase the level of commitment among refugees in their desperate attempts to get to Europe. They are actually forced to take even more risks, like crossing the Mediterranean in overcrowded unsafe boats.

We believe that the EU is spending too much money on fortifying its internal and external borders and on aid to the Moroccan government to enhance its security measures. More integration programs would doubtlessly make a better use of these funds. The lack of such projects was reflected in the dramatic events that shook Europe over the past few months, such as the violent acts in France or the tensioned relations between Europeans and the Muslim immigrants.

The seminar
The 47 young people coming from Europe, northern Africa and the Palestinian Territories had the chance to discuss on various topics within the general frame of migration. Having clarified the terminology and with a general insight into the topic, we focused on the different aspects of migration. The subjects raised include: reasons for migration, Human Rights, EU migration legislation and policies, institutions and organizations dealing with refugees (e.g. UNHCR), Europeans’ perception on illegal immigration. Participants split into working groups (Report, Statement, Street Action, Film, Photo Story, Photo Gallery) and towards the end of the seminar they presented the outcomes.

The street action and the UNESCO conference (including the field visit to the refugee camp) were particularly interesting, as they highlighted different aspects regarding refugees/migrants in Melilla and Spain. On the one hand, participants were given the opportunity to interact directly with the local community and on the other hand, they were presented an official position regarding the issue. Furthermore, the NGO factory and the project development sessions put the basis of future co-operation between different organizations.

In terms of outcome, apart from the statement, which reflects our view and position regarding the topic of migration, we expect to have a follow-up program consisting in common actions (e.g. street campaigns) across Europe meant to raise the awareness among European citizens on this issue.

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