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UCD Fáilte Refugees: Refugee Awareness Week 2019

March 27, 2019

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Fence-Jumping: Migrants and the Spanish Exclaves

As you may know, Spain is the primary destination for migrants in Europe. A handful of other countries have been reported as being the 'Promised Land' for people fleeing poverty and violence, such as Italy and Germany. The former earned this distinction because of a popular (though dangerous) sea route from Libya, the latter because of high economic prospects and the generally positive reception people received in the early years of the migrant crisis. The Spanish exclaves of Melilla and Ceuta, however, give African refugees a literal glimpse at how close Europe is to their homeland.

 

Given the two exclaves’ geographical placement, it’s no wonder that so many attempted crossings take place in North Africa. Unlike the dreaded sea crossings that have become a symbol of desperation in the last few years, land crossings offer a less daunting method of reaching Europe. Obviously, the danger still cannot be understated; a migrant died during a recent October crossing and twenty-six Africans were injured. The impending crossing is also preceded by a marathon of malnutrition and thirst, and the exclaves are the sites of this misery precisely because of their unique position between two continents.

 

In terms of the reaction to these crossings, Spanish authorities have been on constant alert. A number of migrants have also been returned to Morocco from Spain, and mechanical law enforcement seems to be the authorities’ main preoccupation as they skirt around the African fences. Despite the brief positivity spread through word of the Aquarius’ welcome in Valencia last June, the violent clashes between refugees and police at the periphery of Spain have been more frequent. 

 

Integration may take a hit from this, too. From a purely amateur standpoint, I’ve observed slightly less racial diversity in the Andalusian capital of Seville than I have in Dublin or London. Though I could be wrong. I don’t have statistics in my hand, or an in-depth knowledge of the city’s demographics, and to rely on first impressions would be a grave mistake. But it’s interesting to ponder the reasons for this phenomenon, half-expecting to find a link to the recent pushbacks on the African borders. As it is, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has tweeted praise for the security forces and says he awaits a major European solution to the European migrant crisis.

 

So, that’s what we've come to: diplomatic praise and a careful ounce of compassion. All in all, one can imagine the strains that exist when you’re the head of government, and a balance is clearly trying to be built between order and care. Unfortunately, due to the supposed need for a fight against fence-jumpers, we’ve seen a number of mishaps and atrocities take place in places like Ceuta and Melilla. With the hand-in-hand approach of welcome, as with the Aquarius, and security, as with the migrants’ broken bones, the integration of refugees in Spain is being somewhat encouraged by the government while more advocacy remains reserved for another day. 

            

 

 

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