About 70 sub-Saharan African migrants forced their way over the barbed wire barrier into Spain’s North African enclave of Melilla 13 October 2016. They ran to a local immigration center where they were met by dozens of migrants cheering “victory, victory” although their legal status in Spain had yet to be determined. Migrants wait weeks and sometimes months at the short-stay immigrant center in the hope of being transferred to a refugee reception center in mainland Spain. More than 700 people tried to scale the razor-wire barriers in Melilla on 12 August 2014, of whom only 30 reached Spanish territory where they were either repatriated or sent to the mainland Spain.
The European Union and Africa share only two land borders: one of them in Ceuta, a western Spanish territory, the other Melilla. Both sustain the entire weight of illegal African migrant crossings by those seeking a new life in Europe. The reason the two borders bear the stress of all the crossings is because crossing by water is a far less attractive and dangerous option. According to official data, up to 3,000 illegal migrants entered Spain in the first half of 2013, double the figure for the same period in 2012.
Growing tensions between Spain and Morocco in August 2010 were proof that the political affiliation of Melilla, the Spanish enclave situated on the northern coast of Morocco, remained a controversial issue. While Morocco regarded enclaves such as Melilla, Ceuta and other Mediterranean isles as occupied territories and remnants of its colonial past, the Spanish sovereignty and character of the autonomous city of Melilla are beyond dispute to the Spanish government.
A six to eight meter high fence surrounds Melilla, a city of 70,000 officially registered residents. 90% of these residents are Spanish citizens, half of Iberian origin and the other of Moroccan descent. Melilla has beena part of Spain since the Spanish military occupied northern Morocco in 1497. Furthermore, Melilla has in the meantime become part of the European Union and represents one of the most important European border posts for the prevention of irregular migration.
Since the beginning of 1990, Melilla has increasingly become a transit destination for migrants and refugees from other Maghrebi, sub-Saharan and Asian countries. These migrants and refugees gained public notoriety in Europe during the summer 2005, when they attempted to climb over the high-tech border fence that is part of the Integrated System of Border Surveillance (SIVE) in groups.
In May 2014 Morocco began erecting a five-meter-high wall, topped with blades and barbed-wire, on the border with Melilla, a north-African Spanish enclave. The measure will target migrants trying to cross into Europe, according to local activists.
Some 1,074 people breached the 12-kilometer-long fences around Melilla in the whole of 2013, and by mid-March 2014 more than 1,600 had done so since the beginning of 2014. On 17 March 2014 hundreds of migrants tried to force their way into Melilla in two attempted mass crossings during the night, throwing rocks at police who tried to stop them. Nearly 300 were arrested and at least 28 were injured in the two attempts. The last such mass crossing of Melilla's heavily protected border took place in late February 2014.
Facing Gibraltar lies Ceuta, on the western horn of a rather wide bay, the coast of which, trending south and then eastwards, past Tetuan, Vigia, Fagaasa, Jebda, Neckor and Temamsa, again juts northward into an eastern horn, formed by the promontory of Ras ed Deir. A small stream called the River of Gold, rising in the hills south of the promontory, flows into the Mediterranean Sea, on the east side of the horn ; and at its mouth stands the fortified little town of Melilla. The hills to the south are covered with numerous villages ; and further southward lie the Moorish towns of Tinkert and Meshia Zerur. In the bay itself, which is over 150 miles across, Spain owns, besides Ceuta and Melilla, the two islands of Penon de Velez and Alhucemas.
Melilla has been in the Spaniard's hands since its first capture by the Duke of Medina Sidonia, in 1496, when, barely four years after the conquest of Granada, the Spanish arms had pursued the flying Moors into Africa. Though the latter have often tried to retake it, they had never been able to shake the hold of their hereditary enemies on this small but not unimportant outwork of Europe in Africa.
It is, perhaps, not much of a possession. The climate, sultry and unhealthy, is execrable, causing frequent fevers and dangerous dysenteries, which compel a change of the garrison at short periods. Melilla is used as a settlement for the Spaniards for whom a court of justice orders a removal for their country's good, and whose lives are most probably of little value to any but themselves. A small port, within range of the guns of the fortress, affords safe anchorage for the small vessels which provide Melilla with provisions and other necessaries, for fishing boats and for the steamers that regularly maintain its communication with Spain.
Towards the end of the 19th Century Melilia was hemmed in by unfriendly tribes. These are mostly branches of the Kabyle, and go under the name of Riff. They are a brave, fierce, warlike and fanatical people, — Muhammedan, of course, by religion, — acknowledging only a nominal subjection to the Emperor of Morocco, — but really independent tribes under the leadership of their own chiefs. Whatever may be the war strength of Morocco, which is said to be capable, according to the urgency and popularity of the cause, of putting into the field from 100,000 to 200,000 men, the late insurrection in Anghera has shown that, for internal administration and the suppression of outbreaks, the Emperor's power for good is by no means great.
These irrepressible warriors, early in October 1893, attacked the Spaniards at Melilia. Convict settlements, like Michael Scott's demon, must have constant work found for them to do; and the Spanish authorities ordered the strengthening of the defences of Melilia by the erection of outworks beyond those already existing : one of these is called Fort Guariach. The works were begun ; and for a time no evil resulted. Evidently, however, those works had been noticed and information sent to the neighbouring tribes. Before long, it became a regular thing, that what the Spaniards did by day, the Riffs undid by night. To end this state of affairs, the Riffs were fired upon. Thereupon the tribes assembled in great numbers and attacked the Spaniards while at work. Thanks to European cupidity, they were well armed with rifles—Remingtons and Winchesters. They outnumbered the 300 Spaniards by more than 10 to 1 ; but their attacks during the whole day were repulsed, and the Spaniards retired in the evening to Melilia, with their 20 dead and 35 wounded. Both sides had behaved well. The fierce fanaticism and great numbers of the Riffs were successfully resisted by the high courage and resolute firmness of the Spaniards ; and when night compelled these to withdraw, the Riffs followed them to the very walls of Melilla.
From 1908 until the close of 1915 Spain spent a large amount on its possessions on the Moroccan littoral and hinterland, a fair proportion of which was put into public works. Melilla has expanded into a city with modern (onveniences, and Nador has been transformed from a collection of wooden barracks into a town. Colonization has been encouraged and everything feasible done to increase tbe agricultural prosperity of the country, especially in the vicinity of Muluya, through an organization known as the Agricola Catalana. w'ar Increases Demand for Spanish Goods. Since the outbreak of the Great War exports of Spanish goods to North Africa increased on account of the lessening or stopping of exports from other European countries to these Spanish possessions." Mining near Melilla has developed, the leading enterprises being the Compafiia Espafiola de Minas del Eif, the Norte Africano, the Alicantina, and the Sindicato Minero de Melilla.
Classical territorial disagreements that were not resolved after the Spanish Protectorate of Morocco ended. The end of the colonisation of Morocco (1956) substantially changed the meaning of the Spanish North-African enclaves and, consequently, the significance of their borders with post-colonial Morocco. Morocco has identified Ceuta and Melilla as an integral part of Moroccan territory, still to be decolonised. Ceuta and Melilla remained under Spanish sovereignty.
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