Category Archives: Immigration

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.



Dramatic Increase in Illegal Immigrants to Spain


Two days ago, Spanish mountaineers met a 27 year old immigrant from Mali at an altitude of 3,392 m in the Spanish Sierra Nevada, near Granada, Andalucía. When they reported the young man to the police, he had already climbed up to 3,428 m before he was found and arrested by the Spanish Guardia Civil. He had no food or water provisions with him. He stands a good chance of being deported, back to Africa.

In a separate incident, 66 immigrants from North Africa, all male adults, where found and rescued yesterday by the Guardia Civil after they where localized in a patera (a precarious, low-floating wooden boats designed for shallow waters), 18 nautical miles south of the coast of Almería, also in Andalucía.

Immigration is in the news in Spain, on an almost daily level.

Immigration is a political issue, wherever one lives. But in Spain, where I live, it seems that immigration is perhaps a worry of paramount dimensions, changing the face of society more than in any other European country, and faster.

One commentator recently forecast that by 2015, one in every three Spaniards would be a foreigner.

In the year 2000, only 800,000 foreigners were registered with the authorities in Spain, me being one of them. Yes, I am a legally documented foreign resident in Spain.

But now, there are said to be 4 million foreigners living in the country, or about 10 percent of the total of a 42 million population. Hundreds of thousands of Europeans and other, illegal immigrants living (and working) here do not register with the authorities. There is an untold number of foreigners living in Spain without any official papers, a group that is called sin papeles (without papers). These undocumented immigrants are often from Morocco, sub-Saharan Africa, and/or South America. But it is the increase that is dramatic, not the actual number of foreigners living here. The percentage has risen by some 400 %, or quadrupled, over the last five years. No other European country has experienced such a rapid rise in its number of immigrants.

The Spanish government recently granted legal amnesty to some 750,000 undocumented immigrants, who could prove they had a work contract and had lived in the country for more than six months, a decision that has proved rather controversial.

Spain’s decision to offer the most liberal amnesty to immigrants of any European country has provoked more concern over the future for migration to Spain, and Europe. Critics say that this amounts to an opening of the flood-gates, while supporters claim the Spanish government is confronting one of the country’s biggest challenges.

But not every would-be immigrant makes it to the promised land. A report released by Spanish police last year estimated that between 2,000 and 3,000 lives are lost annually in hazardous sea-crossings. In April, 32 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, who had set out from the north of Mauritania in the direction of the Canary Islands, drowned when their boat sank. Last week, people from another boat were rescued who claimed that 50 more immigrants in their boat had died in the crossing over the open sea, their corpses having been thrown overboard.


Using walls and fences to protect territories is not a new idea. For centuries barriers have been built all over the world to separate emerging nations and to defend cities. But wire fences and other police measures designed to keep people from sub-Saharan Africa from seeking a better life in Europe, seem to be ineffective.

As circumstances change, immigrants find different ways to enter Spain. With more control on the Spanish border with Morocco, immigrants now leave Africa from other countries further south, such as Mauritania and Senegal. They use larger boats, called cayucos to travel about 800 kms north to the Canary Islands.

I don’t know what the answer might be. But I think that the so-called First World would not face this problem if resources and wealth would be more evenly distributed between the rich North and the poor South. Perhaps it is also the Colonial past that now makes its demands on Spain and other former empires, a hundred, two hundred, five hundred years after the event.


After all, wasn’t the Colonial Slave Trade an earlier form of migration, when it was inflicted on the African population, albeit in the opposite way?


Food for thought, that one.