Being black could be an advantage in Melilla

The Maghrebi think they are discriminated upon in relation to the rest of the migrants. Photo: Javi West

Once they are in the exclaves, it takes just three or four months for Sub-Saharan migrants to get to the mainland while the Maghrebi have to wait for one and a half years.

Nineteen year old Abdurrahim Boutin waits in front of the CETI of Melilla while his friends go in and out of the centre for migrants. He has been in trouble for allegedly stealing an expensive mobile phone, a claim which he denies and blames the police for trying to set him up. After 13 days the judge set him free on probation but Abdurrahim says that if he commits a crime in the meantime he will go in for a couple of years. “Mala suerte” he repeats in his rudimentary Spanish, bad luck.

When he tried to get back into the centre where he stays, they didn’t let him in for reasons he does not know but he is waiting to hear from the coordinator of the complex and see what she has to say about him. The police took a card from him that allows him into the centre, he says, and as he couldn’t sleep in his bed the previous night, a friend of his – another Moroccan- slept with him outside.

This is not uncommon in Melilla where hundreds of people, most of them migrants and underage minors, sleep in the streets every night. While he waits in front of the centre until the coordinator comes, many who are inside come out and greet him while they share a cigarette and coffee.

All of them are Moroccans like him, it is like this in the centre. Most stick to their nationality when creating a community, although Moroccans and Algerians have much in common. Both of them complain that it takes them much longer than the rest of the nationalities to get to mainland Spain. This difference is most notable compared to the Syrians or the Sub-Saharans.

“The Tunisians leave [for the mainland] after six months. The Sub-Saharans after just a couple” says one of Abdurrahim’s friends, half in Spanish and the other half in French. “It is the same for Syrians” Abdurrahim himself remarks.

All of them want to get to the mainland and then eventually to different places, Sweden and Germany are the ones they mention the most. They all have to ask for a special permit from the police which is known as laissez passer if they want to get to the Spanish mainland first. In theory, anyone who requests asylum can move freely within the state, but according to a lawyer from CEAR Claudia Assens, the Spanish Police don’t allow Maghrebi to get to the mainland.

The CETI of Melilla is right next to the border with Morocco. Photo: Javi West

“The sub-Saharans, on the other hand, know that they will get it [the permit] so they wait in the centre for three or four months until that happens and then they leave for the peninsula.”

For this reason they don’t ask for asylum in the exclaves because they would have to stay in them until their request has been solved, “which could easily take up to two years”. Once they are there they ask for asylum and they can move freely along the mainland until a decision has been made.

But the Maghrebi know that they will not get the laissez passer permit and so they apply for the asylum in the cities themselves and then wait for however long it takes to do so there.

This contributes to their feeling of being cheated and treated unfairly because they spend on average more than one and a half years waiting while the rest, people who have come later than them, are given permission to leave for the mainland before.

They all agree that it is not fair for them to have to wait in some cases triple the amount than the rest. Some of Abdurrahim’s friends call it racism and they ask why this happens.

The reason behind this policy might be to avoid any pull effect that could in any way increase the number of Maghrebi migrants seeking asylum. Accessing the exclaves is easier for them than for the rest as the residents of the adjacent areas to the cities don’t need a visa to cross the border due to a clause in the Schengen Treaty. All of Abdurrahim’s friends have crossed through Beni Ensar, the international border that separates the Moroccan town of the same name and the city of Melilla.

Consequently, the Spanish authorities could be trying to make it hard for the ones who are already in to access the mainland and thus set an example for the rest. “All we can do is hypothesise” Assens says, “there is nothing written.”