Migrants dreaming of Spain live off Moroccan rubbish dump

Under a blazing sun, Youssouf picks food from a Moroccan rubbish dump, one of many young people who scavages to survive while dreaming of life in nearby Spain.

Migrants dreaming of Spain live off Moroccan rubbish dump
Unable to pay for the sea crossing, Youssouf and his friends will try to break through the barbed wire surrounding Ceuta. Photos: AFP

“My mother would be sick if she saw this,” said Youssouf, a 20-year-old from Guinea.

“We are going through a very difficult period. There's no work, we eat from bins, we don't have a choice.”

The foul-smelling rubbish dump is on the hills above Fnideq, a seaside city not far from where Morocco's King Mohammed VI spends his holidays.

The Spanish enclave of Ceuta sits on the horizon, the last stop on the African continent for thousands of migrants who spend months or years trying to reach Europe.

Youssouf has attempted to breach the Ceuta border numerous times during his five years in Morocco, after a lengthy journey which took him through Mali and Algeria.

“Each person here has their dreams, to study, work, play football. I dream of studying in Spain,” said Youssouf, while his companions dig up rubbish with a pickaxe.

Fintor, a 22-year-old from Mali, also wants to reach Spain — ideally to play football.

“Doing this makes us feel ashamed. Our families don't know that we do this,” he said of their forage for food.

The migrants throw themselves onto a newly arrived rubbish truck, eager to stock up before the load gets buried in the dump.

Fintor discovers a theatre mask and puts it on, entertaining his friends.

Before trying his luck in Morocco, he spent months in Libya but “didn't have the means to pay for the crossing” to Europe.

– Kidnapping risk –

While the land route through Ceuta or the second Spanish enclave of Melilla is popular, many more migrants are increasingly reaching Spain by boat.

More than 22,000 people made the crossing in 2017, while so far this year more than 15,000 have reached Spain by sea, according to figures from the UN refugee agency.

The numbers are comparable to Italy, which this year has seen nearly 17,000 people arrive, while close to 14,000 have made it to Greece by sea, the UNHCR data show.

All options pose risks — of drowning, abuse by smugglers or even kidnapping.

A Europol operation detailed last month uncovered a trafficking network which smuggled more than 100 children from Morocco to Spain, charging them each 2,000 to 8,000 euros ($2,350-$9,400).

A second gang kidnapped the young migrants and forced their families in Morocco to pay 500 euros for their release, the EU's law enforcement agency said.

The US State Department in a recent report found irregular migrants “highly vulnerable to trafficking in Morocco”, while noting a lack of proactive measure to prosecute traffickers or identify their victims.

– Scarred hands –

Unable to pay for the sea crossing, Youssouf and his friends will try to break through the barbed wire surrounding Ceuta.

More than 6,000 people succeeded in crossing into Spain by land last year, while nearly 3,000 have done so in 2018.

One hoping to follow in their footsteps is Aboubakar, who lives in a forest close to the Ceuta border fence.

“I got in three times and they made me leave, but I kept my cool,” said the 18-year-old Guinean, his scarred hands a testament to the failed attempts.

While he hides out and waits, Aboubakar has gone weeks without washing.

“It's not good for my health, but I've got no other options. I have to pass through here” and reach the other side, he said.


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.