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  • If you zoom in to Morocco, you'll see a tiny wedge of land that stands out from

  • its surroundings. This little bit of land is surrounded by one of the most

  • fortified borders on the planet.

  • Right outside the border you'll find makeshift

  • forest camps, where people spend their days and nights evading the police and

  • preparing to rush the border, usually in large groups, with hopes of jumping over

  • and stepping foot on this land.

  • This peculiar scene plays out because this piece of land, while in the

  • continent of Africa, is actually a piece of Europe.

  • This small piece of land is called Melilla. It's one of two Spanish enclaves in

  • Morocco, marking the only borders that Europe shares with the continent of Africa.

  • Spain conquered Melilla in the late 1400s as part of its rapid global expansion.

  • This region of northern Africa changed hands many times over the

  • following decades, but Spain kept hold of Melilla.

  • Even in 1956, when the colonial

  • period was winding down and great powers were ceding their colonies, Morocco had just

  • declared independence, but even then Spain held onto its enclave.

  • Today, around 86,000 people live in Melilla and when you're there you might as well

  • be in mainland Spain. The city is designed with the distinctive Spanish

  • architectural style and residents speak Spanish. They pay in Euros.

  • You're only reminded that you're not in mainland Europe when you walk to the peripheries

  • of this city, to find one of the most fortified border walls on the planet.

  • A seven mile barrier with layers of protection

  • The first layer is a 20-foot metal fence, followed by a second fence with a

  • flexible top, which makes it harder to climb. Below this second fence you have

  • barbed wire netting, strong and dense webs, then comes another taller fence

  • with a flexible top section and more barbed wire. Then you're on the Moroccan

  • side where, you have a 6.5 foot ditch and then a double fence with

  • you guessed it, more barbed wire. There are lookout posts and every inch of the

  • border is monitored by video surveillance.

  • To understand why this

  • barrier exists, you have to cross over into the Moroccan town of Nador and

  • then into the forest in the hills surrounding the enclave.

  • These migrants are mostly from sub-Saharan Africa and they all have

  • different motives for leaving their homelands.

  • They gather in these camps and

  • plan for the day when they'll try to cross into Melilla.

  • In response to this intense security, the migrants have

  • developed a technique that relies on overpowering the border guards with

  • strength of numbers.

  • The groups range in size, but are nearly always in the

  • hundreds. Most get caught right away on the Moroccan side where they face border

  • agents who are not shy about using force. Those who make it past the first few

  • layers, onto the Spanish section of the barrier are also thrown back immediately

  • or detained, but because of their large numbers a few will inevitably slip past

  • the guards. As soon as they put their feet on the ground in Melilla, they are

  • technically in Europe and are guaranteed certain protections under European Union law.

  • But they still have to run a hundred meters to an immigration center, where

  • they can be taken in and given protection from immediate deportation.

  • Arrivals to these enclaves came to a head in 2014, when Spain decided it was

  • finally time to double down on its effort to fortify this border. This was

  • mainly in response to the influx of migrants attempting to get into Europe,

  • fleeing from conflicts in Africa and the Middle East.

  • "Biggest wave refugees in modern history"

  • "hundreds of thousands of refugees"

  • "fleeing brutal violence in the Middle East"

  • "cross over European borders by the hundreds of thousands"

  • "in overcrowded boats, many drowning along the way"

  • Spain's response to this migration

  • crisis was to focus on the borders of its enclaves in Africa, redoubling the

  • efforts to keep migrants out of this little slice of Europe. The year after

  • the 2014 migration crisis, attempts to jump the fence dropped by 67%.

  • Spain didn't make these numbers drop on their own. One of the things you'll notice when

  • you look at this wall, is that Moroccan military and police are also guarding

  • this border. The year of the migration crisis, Morocco built these two extra

  • layers of barbed wire fencing.

  • "But authorities say dense new anticlimb mesh

  • stopped the latest to make the attempt in their tracks"

  • So why would Morocco

  • take the responsibility of building a barrier and standing guard at Spain's border?

  • Turns out they have real incentives to do so. Morocco has what's

  • called advanced status partnership with Europe, which gives them economic and

  • political advantages in trade and political affairs. The European Union

  • accounts for more than half of Morocco's international trade and the EU also

  • provides Morocco with billions of Euros in aid for security and development, so

  • the Moroccans in an effort to stay on good terms with their northern neighbor,

  • take on the job of protecting Spain's border. And they take their job very seriously.

  • Migrants had always had their forest camps right here, right outside the city on this hill.

  • This was their camp for years and this is the place where they used to regroup

  • and prepare a jump, until just a few months ago when the Moroccan military

  • set up an outpost up here.

  • Now the migrants can't return and they have gone

  • to find another refuge, which is on a hill 12 kilometers from here. Moroccan authorities

  • have started routinely raiding the camps.

  • But they don't deport them from Morocco, they have other less

  • resource-intensive ways of keeping these migrants from coordinating a large

  • enough group for a jump. The police were here for three hours this morning, they

  • basically came in and stole a bunch of stuff, they kind of disrupted these tents

  • and messed with these people's houses. They harassed the women in violent ways.

  • They basically came here just to flex their muscles and say you know we're in

  • charge, make sure you remember that.

  • About once a month the Moroccan authorities

  • round up the migrants and send them to other parts of Morocco that are far away

  • from Melillah, preventing them from gathering in a sufficient group to blitz the fence.

  • The Moroccan authorities are not concerned with keeping these

  • migrants out of Morocco, they're trying to keep them from getting to Europe.

  • They do in many respects, a lot of Spain's and Europe's dirty work, with respect to

  • blocking people whose interest is to cross.

  • Another thing you'll notice is

  • that everyone in these camps is from sub-Saharan Africa, basically countries

  • below this line.

  • All migrants face extreme difficulties in their journey to

  • Europe, but migrants from places like Syria have a much easier time just

  • walking up to the border and asking for asylum the proper way.

  • It's not an exaggeration to say that hardly any sub-Saharan African is able to do that.

  • They do have to resort to very dangerous methods, like scaling the

  • fences or hiding in vehicles or taking to the sea.

  • Spain did build a new

  • office to handle the influx of migrants, but not migrants from sub-Saharan Africa.

  • You might say well that's reasonable right? Everybody

  • knows there's a war in Syria, so of course it makes sense to presume that

  • Syrians are fleeing the war and they're refugees, they need protection.

  • But the flip side of that, the presumption that people from countries

  • where there isn't like a live war, that you are reading about in the newspapers,

  • the presumption that people from those countries are not in need of

  • international protection, is a very dangerous presumption.

  • The world is experiencing a record number of refugees and displaced people. While some

  • countries have opened their doors to let these people in, many are responding by

  • building walls, but this won't stop them from coming. No matter how dangerous the

  • journey, the people in these camps will keep trying.

  • That's the six episode of Borders, I hope you've enjoyed this series. Today we also

  • launched the on-site experience for all six of the Borders stories, with graphs

  • and charts and visualizations to kind of go a little bit further into some of

  • these stories. I'm gonna leave a link here where you can go see that and thank

  • you for being a part of this journey.

If you zoom in to Morocco, you'll see a tiny wedge of land that stands out from

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Europe's most fortified border is in Africa

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    Justin posted on 2018/07/03
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