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Melilla: a solution beyond the fence

The assault on 24 June shows that the fence is not a solution to irregular immigration
valla melilla

PHOTO/ARCHIVO  -  

The tragedy of the migrants in the city of Nador once again puts the controversial Melilla fence in the spotlight. The border fence that stretches along the 12 km that surrounds the autonomous city was the scene of a tragedy that police unions denounce and makes them rethink European migration policy. 

"We need more EU involvement in Melilla. This is the southern border of the EU", complains Yusef Mohamed, a national police officer representing the Federal Union of Police, with a long career on his shoulders. He is asking for what many of his colleagues have been demanding from the Spanish government for years. More state involvement on its border with Morocco. More resources and more personnel, to control the 922 assaults on the fence that have taken place so far in 2022. Already almost as many as the 950 recorded by the Ministry of the Interior in 2021. 

Melilla's situation is much worse in numbers than that of its African sister, Ceuta. Until 19 May 2022, there are 257 jumps in Ceuta against the aforementioned 922 in Melilla, more than three times as many in comparison. These figures have increased since the covid pandemic. 

According to Yusef Mohamed, these new jumps, which are on the rise, are also increasingly violent. "The Moroccan police do not have the means to deal with these new waves. They have limited training and equipment that does not allow them to work with optimal guarantees for their safety and that of the migrants", continues Mohamed, who considers this assault on Friday 24 to be a "turning point" in the history of the Melilla fence. 

datos ministerio
Ministerio del Interior vía Congreso de los Diputados -

The role of the smuggling networks that act as "commanders" in the jumps and in the organisation of the migrant camps around Nador is another of the points that, according to the Moroccan and Spanish authorities, leads to increasingly complex assaults for the security forces. Mohamed agrees with the Moroccan thesis and affirms that illegal immigration networks instruct migrants and use "urban guerrilla" techniques. 

"When they are going to make a jump, they know the area where they have to enter. They prepare it beforehand to weaken the restraining elements. They capture information from the anti-riot contingent. Like timetables, shifts...", says the representative of the national police union. Videos leaked by the Direction générale de Sûreté nationale (DGSN), the Moroccan national police force, have circulated on social networks, showing how illegal immigration networks teach sub-Saharan immigrants in the camps on Mount Gurugú. 

The same camps that the forces of order of the Maghreb country evicted on Thursday 23rd by means of a pitched offensive in which they were met with a fierce defence on the part of the migrants. 

According to local sources, this offensive cornered the groups of migrants, who decided to storm the fence on the 24th. Interior Ministry sources tell Atalayar that since the meetings between governments in April and the normalisation of relations between Spain and Morocco, groups from the Direction de Sécurité Publique, the Moroccan equivalent of the Spanish UIP, have carried out this series of operations. 

Yussef Mohamed is, however, sceptical about the real and long-term usefulness of these methods. "The police officers posted at the fence need more resources and more personnel. But if there is all that, as well as effective collaboration with the neighbour, the trafficking networks will leave the route of the assault on the fence to focus on the other route, that of the canoes", summarises the national police officer. "To find a solution, we have to analyse the mistakes and correct them. The culprit in all this is hunger and the opportunity to live better than in their own country", adds Mohamed, who calls for a more far-reaching policy to curb illegal immigration. 

He agrees with Marta García Outón, coordinator of the Institute for Security and Culture, who in June 2022 submitted a report to the Congress of Deputies together with other experts assessing a reinvention of the autonomous space of Ceuta and Melilla within the European Union. "For the time being, there are bilateral agreements, with border control and security measures, but the phenomenon is not being tackled on the basis of the basic structural problems, nor with a cross-cutting approach that involves not only the political authorities, but society as a whole, especially companies and economic agents," comments the expert in security and defence. "Without a prospective study on these challenges, it is not possible to determine the best long-term solution and we will continue to work with resources that only serve to react once the problem is in front of us". 

García Outón argues that, as the police unions are calling for, pending a comprehensive solution, it is necessary to reinforce the physical elements that prevent illegal entry into Europe. "Responding efficiently and in a timely manner to a crisis in the short term means preventing it from evolving into a bigger and more complex problem. The investment in the fence is being made to establish the necessary capabilities for border surveillance and control and the resources required to avoid endangering security personnel at the border must continue to be targeted. Protection of the immediate border is a matter of national survival, but protection of the advanced border is synonymous with prevention and anticipation and, therefore, investment in maintaining our country's sovereignty and stability in neighbourly relations," explains Outón. 

All of this is taking into account that the impassable border does not exist, from a technical point of view for security analysts. For the experts consulted by Atalayar, the priority for the border should be the security and the lives of migrants and police officers on duty at the borders. 

The date of 24 June promises to go down sadly in the history of relations between Spain and Morocco. After the African Union Commission, the UN has joined the calls for an investigation to clarify the reasons for the death of 24 people in Nador. The Spanish Attorney General's Office has also ordered the Coordinating Prosecutor for Inmigration to carry out an investigation due to the "transcendence and seriousness of the events that took place". In turn, the Moroccan government summoned the African ambassadors of the allied countries on Sunday 26 to report on what happened and to join forces in the face of possible turbulence.