On New Year’s Day, the Spanish city of Ceuta, one of Europe’s only land borders connecting it with Africa, saw approximately 1,000 people attempt a daring mass migration from Morocco. Despite a “well-organized and violent attempt,” as described by local authorities, none made it through safely. Two migrants were seriously injured in their attempt and were taken to hospital in Ceuta for treatment. More than 50 law enforcement officers were injured during the attempt, ten of which were left in a serious condition.
The migrants attempted to breach the well-protected border between Spain and Morocco “using iron bars, wire cutters, and large stones” the Ceuta Government said. In the last month, we have seen other desperate migration attempts from Morocco to Spain’s North African enclaves. In early December, 400 migrants crossed the Ceuta border fence safely, in the largest single breach of the Moroccan/Spanish border in the last decade. The Ceuta border is protected by two parallel 6-metre-high barbed wire fences, watch posts, spotlights, noise and movement sensors, and cameras. Guard ships, patrol boats, and hundreds of law enforcement officers await anyone attempting to cross Spain’s southern coastal borders. As such, illegal immigration from Morocco to Spain is extremely difficult and dangerous, as many hopeful migrants have found. 2016 saw nearly 5,000 confirmed deaths in the Mediterranean, where many people from North Africa made attempts to relocate to Europe. This makes the past year the deadliest for migrants in the area, as they seek asylum and safety from an ever-dangerous North Africa.
The Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla are Africa’s only land borders with Europe, making it a popular point for people throughout Northern Africa seeking asylum in Europe. These borders are crossed legally by thousands of migrants every day, but it is suspected that some are also smuggled through illegally each day. The latest attempt has drawn worldwide attention to the illegal immigration issue, which prompted the Moroccan government to state “From now on, those making such attempts will be presented before the competent judicial authorities who will decree their expulsion from the kingdom [of Morocco] or heavier penalties, according the gravity of the act.” In spite of the desperate need, for many people in Northern Africa, to escape their current living conditions, it may become more difficult for them to do so as authorities look to crack down on the issue.
Morocco is governed by a monarchy and, like many, African countries, experiences widespread corruption, a poor record in the protection of human rights, and widespread poverty (nearly half of Moroccans say there is “extreme poverty” where they live). These issues have given rise to peaceful protests by the Moroccan people which, reports say, have recently been met with increasing violence by security forces that the government has since denied. It seems that the continuation of corruption, the poor care for human rights, and the high rates of poverty have North Africans seeking a better life in Europe, despite the risks the journey holds.
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