Ceuta and Melilla. Two Spaniards in Africa.


The world is a funny place.


There are two small places in North Africa, within Moroccan boundaries, situated on the northern coast of the Maghreb, on the southern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, Ceuta and Melilla, that to you and me seem like integral geographical parts of the Kingdom of Morocco, when in fact they aren’t. They actually belong to Spain. Ceuta and Melilla are two Spanish exclaves in North Africa. Two Spaniards on the African continent.

Why, you may wonder, are these places Spanish?

Well, you may have heard that nearly all of mainland Spain was occupied by Moorish people from 711 to 1492, with some parts in Arab hands until even later. In 1497, after Spain had re-conquered the last bastion of Al-Andaluz (Granada), Spain decided that the Port of Melilla in North Africa would be of eminent strategic importance to her, and thus Melilla was taken in retaliation for the long occupation of Spain.

Ceuta is even more strategically important, but Ceuta is different as far as history is concerned. In the turmoil amongst the Moors after the loss of Al-Andaluz, Ceuta was taken by the Portuguese in 1415, before the Spanish acquired it after Spain’s King Felipe II succeeded to the throne of Portugal in 1580. Both cities were free ports before 1986 when Spain joined the European Union.


Now, both cities form part of the territory of the European Union, rightly or wrongly. Hmm.

Melilla and Ceuta have a combined population of approximately 180,000, of mostly Christian, Muslim, Jewish and, to much lesser extent, Hindu confessions. The principal industry in Melilla and Ceuta is fishing; cross-border commerce (legal or smuggled) plus Spanish and European grants and salaries are the other sources of income.

The Government of Morocco has called for the integration of Ceuta and Melilla, along with uninhabited islands such as Isla Perejil, into its National territory, making references to Spain’s territorial claim to Gibraltar. But the Spanish government and both, Ceuta’s and Melilla’s autonomous governments and inhabitants, reject such a comparison on the grounds that both, Ceuta and Melilla, are integral parts of the Spanish state.

There is considerable pressure by African refugees to enter Melilla or Ceuta, the nearest contact with the European Union. The border is secured by the Melilla border fence, a now six metre tall double fence with watch towers, but African refugees have regularly managed to cross it illegally, avoiding the attempts by Spanish police to take them back to their home countries.

The most surprising fact about Melilla, to me, is a Google search. You type in Melilla, and in naught point naught seven seconds you are given 25,400,000 links to check up on. You probably won’t have the time to do a thorough check-up (I didn’t), but there you go. Am I missing out on something, here?


Ceuta and Melilla both have appealing tax structures. Because the cities are Spanish, Spain’s tax system applies. However, the taxes apply at only half the rate one would pay in Spain. Furthermore, residents of the enclaves enjoy the benefits of all Spanish double taxation treaties. It is also noteworthy that the enclaves are duty-free ports, there is no VAT (value added tax), and the cost of maintaining a residence is quite low compared to other retirement havens.




I think that a strong case could be made for such territorial anomalies to be redeemed. Rightly Spain has no place in the Philippines, nor does Portugal in Angola. In both cases, these former colonies were released into independence, and quite rightly so; the Philippines in 1898, and Angola in 1975. A similar fate was bestowed on India and Pakistan, in 1947, Algeria in 1962, Congo (Zaire) in 1964, Goa in 1987, and Hong Kong in 1997.


Leftovers of old colonial rule still remain in Ceuta, Melilla, the Falklands (aka Islas Malvinas), Gibraltar, Guantánamo, the Western Sahara and Cyprus. I am deliberately leaving out Northern Ireland for now, and Greenland (more about that soon).


It is time, in my opinion, for some politicians to grow up and face the 21st century real world. If they don’t we might as well still have parts of the USA being British, Libya being Italian and parts of Greece being Turkish. Or the North Pole being claimed by the Russian Federation, if we allow that to happen.


If reason would prevail, on the other hand, our world might become a safer place to hand over to our children.


One response to “Ceuta and Melilla. Two Spaniards in Africa.

  1. We Moroccans call for the return of Ceuta and Melilla to national territory. We recognize the colonial rule that have lasted for centuries and ask the Spanish government to withdraw from these cities as soon as possible.

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