Trump’s wall: Spain shows why US president is heading for trouble

A year ago Donald Trump's first TV campaign ad showed footage of immigrants trying to flee to a Spanish enclave as he pledged to build a wall on the US border with Mexico. After the US President promised to press ahead with the plan, we take a closer look at Spain's two border fences.

Trump's wall: Spain shows why US president is heading for trouble
A member of the Spanish Guardia Civil climbs as would-be immigrants straddle a fence separating Morocco from Melilla on October 22, 2014, following a morning assault on the border. Photo: AFP

Where are Spain’s border fences? 

Spain has long tried to keep immigrants from illegally entering Melilla and Ceuta, the country’s two enclaves bordering Morocco. 

The areas represent the European Union’s only land border with Africa. Each year thousands of mainly sub-Saharan Africans attempt to breach the barriers in search of a better life in Europe. 

READ ALSO: Trump ad actually shows migrants storming Spain border NOT Mexico

How old are the fences?

Spain started building the fences in 1998 and fortified them further in 2005. The EU has since contributed more funding for reinforcements.

Topped with barbed wire, two of the Melilla fences are six metres high, while the third is a three-metre structure. They have a combined length of 12 kilometres. The Ceuta fence is eight kilometres long and six metres high. 

READ ALSO: 1,100 migrants storm Spain’s enclave in Ceuta

How effective are they? 

They are generally quite effective in keeping people out, but are routinely stormed and human rights groups have accused both the Spanish and Moroccan border police of mistreating immigrants. 

The fences are located on the Spanish side of the border and the country’s so-called pushback policy of walking immigrants back to the Moroccan side without affording them protections guaranteed by EU law has come in for scathing criticism. 

Human rights groups have been joined by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture, the UN’s refugee agency, and the European Union’s home affairs commissioner in condemning these “hot returns”. 

Spain’s controversial 2015 gag law reforms also paved the way for immigrants caught illegally entering Melilla or Ceuta to be collectively expelled, despite international laws banning the practice.

Members of the Spanish Guardia Civil look on as two members of the Moroccan Auxiliary Forces hit would-be immigrants. Photo: AFP 

READ ALSO: Six reasons why Spain is failing on human rights 

How are Moroccan-Spanish relations in Ceuta and Melilla? 

Tense. Morocco wants the regions for itself and doesn’t agree they are an integral part of Spain, which conquered Melilla in 1497.

Who lives there?

Ceuta has a population of about 82,000, while 78,000 people live in Melilla. Spanish is the most widely spoken language. The huge security presence has seen them described variously as gated communities and open-air prisons. 

Have there been any serious incidents?

Too many to count, but the deadliest events both occurred in Ceuta. In 2005 at least 14 Africans died after they were shot at by Moroccan and Spanish forces. 

Then, in 2014, Spanish police allegedly fired rubber bullets and tear gas at African immigrants attempting to swim to Ceuta, killing 15 people. The regional court in Ceuta has ordered the case to be investigated further.

READ MORE: Judge summons 16 police officers over deadly Ceuta drownings 

What do human rights groups say? 

Amnesty International was furious after the 2014 Ceuta deaths:

“Spain’s Secretary of State for Security says the officers weren’t permitted to enter foreign waters. So the border stopped them from rescuing drowning men, but it did not stop the rubber bullets. At least fourteen people paid with their lives.

“What happened that day is the starkest example yet of the Spanish Government’s border policy: No entry. At any cost.”

In its recent world report, Human Rights Watch wrote:

“A policy of summary returns and reinforced controls at Spain’s land border with Morocco in its North Africa enclaves appeared to result in migrants increasingly trying to reach Ceuta and Melilla by boat or swimming. The number of deaths along that route tripled to 45 in the first six months of 2016 compared to 2015.”

The European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) said:

“Research from local and international NGOs and video footage confirm that automatic expulsions of Sub-Saharan individuals at the Melilla border fence frequently result in their severe mistreatment by Moroccan forces. This ill-treatment is both preventive and punitive and involves a very high level of violence. This is known by members of the Spanish forces and sometimes happens in plain view of them, as happened in the present case on 13 August 2014.”

“Despite these alarming reports, both the EU and Spain continue intensifying their border management externalization policy, thus escaping their obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Are there any plans to tear down the fences?
Why should Donald Trump care? 
If the Spanish experience is anything to go by, human rights groups will be all over him like a rash. He also risks further alienating Mexico and will have to contend with more hurdles in the form of conservationists and high costs. 
But will he care? Given the personal prestige he has invested in the project, probably not. 


How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.