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Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Analysis by Tito Drago
- Spain’s announcement that it plans to build a third fence to separate its enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla from Morocco, using the most advanced technology aimed at keeping out undocumented immigrants, has drawn loud criticism while giving rise to many questions.
Spain’s announcement that it plans to build a third fence to separate its enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla from Morocco, using the most advanced technology aimed at keeping out undocumented immigrants, has drawn loud criticism while giving rise to many questions.
The most frequent is whether the new measures designed to dissuade desperately poor people from sub-Saharan Africa from attempting to enter Europe, even at the risk of their lives, will be effective. For many, the answer is no.
The most recent European precedent was the 155-km Berlin Wall, built in 1961 to separate West Berlin from the former East Germany in the East European communist bloc. By the time it was finally torn down in 1989, 267 people had been shot to death in their attempts to get over the wall into West Berlin, while thousands successfully made it across.
Today, Israel is also building a wall, on the West Bank, to keep out Palestinians. And the U.S. has built high fences and walls along its border with Mexico, where security has been steadily beefed up over the past decade.
But none of these barriers has proven to be extremely effective. Nor are there signs that the third fence to be built around the Spanish cities of Melilla and Ceuta in northern Morocco on the Mediterranean sea will keep out would-be immigrants intent on entering the European Union at any cost.
In their bids to climb over the two fences and get by members of the security forces equipped in riot gear, 13 would-be migrants have been killed and dozens injured over the past month by rubber bullets or beatings, or by falling off the three-metre fences. Police officers were also injured in their attempt to keep the immigrants from crossing.
Besides the criticism from non-governmental organisations (NGOs), dissonant voices have been heard within the European Commission, the EU executive arm.
EU Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security Franco Frattini, who is the vice-president of the European Commission, said “Europe cannot become a fortress” and “must do all it can to avoid sending this kind of negative message” to other countries. He also said measures like building higher and higher fences will not resolve the problem of unwanted immigration.
Asked Tuesday in a news briefing in Brussels about the third fence to be built around Ceuta and Melilla, he responded that it would unfortunately be the first such “wall” built in Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and in the wake of European criticism of the Israeli wall.
But there are several problems involved in the Spain-Morocco border question.
On one hand is the plight of poor immigrants from sub-Saharan African countries who are desperate to enter Europe in order to send hard-earned remittances to their families back home.
On the other are the poor relations between countries of North Africa, such as the decades-long dispute over territory in the Western Sahara between Morocco and Algeria, which backs the Polisario Front, the independence movement fighting Morocco for control over the area.
Spain is also a reluctant player in the conflict, because the Western Sahara was a Spanish colony until 1975, when Spain pulled out and the area was occupied by Morocco.
In addition, Morocco lays claim to Ceuta and Melilla, which Spain considers its own territory because the two cities have been under its sovereignty since 1497 and 1580, respectively, prior to the existence of the kingdom of Morocco.
To Spain’s demands that Morocco take measures to prevent migrants from gathering in makeshift camps near the borders of Melilla and Ceuta, the North African country has responded that it lacks the security forces necessary to do the job, and that what is needed is a “modern Marshall Plan” for Morocco.
The reference is to the Marshall Plan of which George Marshall, U.S. secretary of state from 1947 to 1949, was the architect. The programme provided massive amounts of aid for the reconstruction of Europe after World War II.
Besides sovereignty over Ceuta and Melilla, Moroccan King Mohammed VI is demanding a Marshall Plan to develop his country, while NGOs as well as politicians in Europe say that such an aid programme is needed instead for sub-Saharan Africa, which is the source of most of the immigrants who try to make it into Europe.
The latest assault on the double fences surrounding Melilla, which like the ones in Ceuta are five metres apart, occurred on Wednesday. Many of the 65 immigrants who made it over the barbed wire were injured.
The third fence that the Spanish government will throw up around the two cities will be equipped with state-of-the-art infrared cameras, sensor pads and sound detectors.
The government has asked the Spanish company Indra, which has built large airports in Spain, other countries of Europe, and Latin America, to provide the necessary technology, which will apparently enable the security forces to detect the approach of migrants from a distance in order to prepare to confront their attempts at swarming over the fences in large numbers, sometimes using makeshift ladders.
But NGOs argue that the money spent on “militarising” the borders should go towards increasing development aid to Africa.
They also say the EU should open up its markets to the products of poor countries, in order to help them develop and raise their living standards, which would in turn ease the need for people to emigrate.
Spain’s ambassador on a special mission for Mediterranean Affairs, Joan Prat, also placed part of the blame for the immigration pressure from Africa on the failure of the rich world’s development policies.
Nevertheless, he noted that the EU provides 10 times more development aid to Africa than the United States, totalling 1.8 billion euros (2.15 billion dollars) over a decade.
Analysis by Tito Drago