Transiting the Spanish-Moroccan border: a visual historical journey

Through this photographic essay we intend to convey the first impressions we had when we reached the Spanish-Moroccan border in the Ramadan season.

María Isolda Perelló Carrascosa

He is part of the Work team of the Research Group on Migration and Development of the University of Valencia (inmeasure). Doctor in Social Sciences from the University of Valencia, Spain (2015-2019), Research line: Migration, Mobility and Social Change. Thesis co-supervised by the University of Valencia (Spain) and El Colef (Tijuana, Mexico). Master in Development Cooperation, specializing in Co-development and Migratory Movements (2011-2013). Research lines: irregular migration, border control migration policy, detention and deportation procedures, and the role of civil society in the field of humanitarian aid and defense of human rights on the borders of Mexico-United States and Spain -Morocco.

orcid: 0000-0002-3682-0356

Sergio Torres Gallardo

Superior Technician in Fallero Artist and Construction of Scenographies (2013-2015). Extraordinary National Award and of the gva (2014-2015), Professional Family of Arts and Crafts. Assistant Technician in Image and Sound (1990-1995).


Between fortifications and walls: the border cities of Ceuta and Melilla in the western Mediterranean

The natural frontier

Sergio Torres. Ceuta, 2014

After the waters of the Strait, the Moroccan coast can be seen to the left; in the center, Cádiz, and to the right, Gibraltar. Ceuta has occupied throughout history within the field of international communications a privileged position in the passage of the Strait of Gibraltar. Located off the coast of Cádiz and the bay of Algeciras, from which it is separated by a distance of 14 kilometers, it is made up of the Almina peninsula (at the tip of which is Mount Hacho, which joins the mainland by a isthmus), in addition to the island of Perejil and smaller islets (Vilar, 2003: 274).


The viewpoint of Africa

Sergio Torres. Ceuta, 2014

Panoramic view of the Isthmus of Almina and Mount Hacho (left), from the Mirador Isabel ii. To the right Morocco. With an area of 19.48 km2 (Procesa, Sociedad Pública de Desarrollo de Ceuta, 2013: 4), Ceuta is currently the only European city located in northern Africa (Vilar and Vilar, 2002). During a long period of a thousand years, its geographical location as a city open to the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea attracted the settlement of different civilizations.


Ceuta watches over the Strait

Sergio Torres. Ceuta, July 2014

Torre Vigía de la Punta de Sauciño, located in the Hacho Enclosure, dating back to the century xviii. Since the beginning, Ceuta has been militarized in some way and has been the subject of numerous war disputes.


The wall and the moat

Sergio Torres. Royal Moat, Bastion of the Flag and Plaza de Armas of the monumental complex of the Walls, Ceuta, 2014

With a Christian-Byzantine past, subjected to the Muslim conquest in the century viii and the Portuguese Reconquest in the century xv, the border began to be drawn during the Middle and Modern Ages for the defense of a space that depended on the armament and fortification system that was available in the territory (Vilar and Vilar, 2002; Gómez-Barceló, 2009). Proof of this is the Revellín del Ángulo de San Pablo, a century-old construction xviii located at the northern end of the wall. It was in the mid-1990s that migrants and refugees who crossed the border irregularly were massively concentrated, which led to serious altercations with the local population.


Melilla la Vieja

Sergio Torres. Melilla Fortress, August 2014

The history of Melilla is linked to that of Ceuta; It has witnessed numerous historical events: the city founded by the Phoenicians, annexed by the Roman Empire and conquered by the Carthaginians, remained under Byzantine and Muslim rule, until it became part of the Spanish Crown in 1556. It was also the territory of the Protectorate (1913-1956) and later witness of the military uprising that gave rise to the bloody Spanish Civil War (1936).


Coast defense

Sergio Torres. Desnarigado Fort, Ceuta, 2014

Formerly this fort served to guard a cove near Ceuta, which was a regular meeting place for corsairs who came from Morocco. One of these pirates, the Desnarigado, gave his name to both the cove and the fortress. This enclosure was used by the Arabs and from 1415 by the Portuguese, and was modified in 1693. The current castle was built in the century xix. During the Protectorate it was dismantled, and in 1936 it was dismantled, although with the African campaigns of the ii World War returned to military activity (Defense Culture Portal, no date).


The maritime corridor of the Strait

Sergio Torres. Monte Hacho, Ceuta, 2014

In the image you can see a military powder magazine guarded by a turret. In the background to the right is the Rock of Gibraltar. Ceuta and Melilla constitute an essential point for the control of irregular migration that comes from Africa within the Spanish defense network, despite the fact that they are not part of the intergovernmental military alliance of the North Atlantic Treaty (NATO), to which Spain ratified its membership in 1986 (Juan Carlos Rois Alonso, Colectivo Utoía Contagiosa, personal communication of October 13, 2015).


The securitization of immigration control on the Spanish-Moroccan border

The forbidden zone I

MY Perelló. Breakwater of Benzú, Ceuta, 2014

From the Benyunes-Benzú turret they see them and intercept them in the water, before they pass. They try to pass from the top. But at night, the thermals and the Integrated External Surveillance System (Yes go) detect them.

Alfonso Cruzado, Head of Communication of the Civil Guard Command in Ceuta, personal communication of September 10, 2014

The forbidden zone II

MY Perelló. Ceuta border fence and its ring road, September 10, 2014

The fence is a support element […] that allows 6 or 7 minutes from when the intrusion is detected or activated in the system, so that the patrols can access to the point, and avoid passing through a place that is not enabled for it.

Alfonso Cruzado, communication manager of the Civil Guard, personal communication of September 10, 2014


The forbidden zone III

MY Perelló. Ceuta fence, September 10, 2014

The concertina, once you press it, remains wrinkled like an accordion. For this reason, when the immigrants go to jump it, they usually wear a lot of clothes and use cardboard, because the closure of the concertinas is not fixed, but corrugated.

Alfonso Cruzado, communication manager of the Civil Guard, personal communication of September 10, 2014

The border of Tarajal I

Sergio Torres. Ceuta, 2014

Section of the border fence corresponding to the “Arroyo de las Bombas”, located next to the Tarajal polygon. The road around the fence is 8 kilometers long.


Living with the fence

Sergio Torres. Border fence, Benzú sector, Ceuta, 2014

Benzú is a district to the northwest of Ceuta of great archaeological importance. In the upper part of the image is the García Aldave Mount Ceutí, known as Tortuga Mount. In the upper right part is the Mount Yebel Musa or Dead Woman, belonging to the Moroccan territory of Benyunes.


The Dead Woman and the fence

Sergio Torres. Benzú Beach, Ceuta, 2014

This is the maximum approach distance allowed to the fence if you do not have authorization from the Spanish Civil Guard.


The mist

Sergio Torres. Benzú Beach, Ceuta, 2014

The Levante wind is one of the moments used by migrants of sub-Saharan origin who are hidden in the forest camps near the Benyunes land pass, to try to access the Spanish coasts through small boats.


The steel trap

Sergio Torres. Valla de Melilla, August 15, 2014

Crowning the first fence (the one that faces the Moroccan side), are the fearsome concertinas. In April 2015, the construction works of another fence with concertinas were completed, which was separated from the Melilla side by a five-meter-deep pit (sjm, 2016, pp. 21-22). In May 2019, the Spanish Ministry of the Interior established that this system, which has caused a large number of mutilations over the years, should be replaced by rotating cylinders. It is estimated that in 2020 the works will be completed (El pueblo de Ceuta, 2019).


After the jump

Sergio Torres. Valla de Melilla, August 15, 2014

Operator performing maintenance tasks and placing the "anti-climbing net" after several massive jumps were recorded in the previous days. The fence on the Spanish side is inclined 10º towards the Moroccan side to avoid being climbed. Nowadays in Melilla it is very difficult for them to get to jump the fence, due to the strong repression and surveillance of the Moroccan auxiliary forces, as well as the legalization of "hot returns", so that the most common form of Attempted irregular entry is in boats and boats.


The border of Tarajal II

Sergio Torres. Ceuta, July 8, 2014

Security perimeter before the fence. In this place, on February 6, 2014, the events of “the Tarajal Tragedy” took place, in which fifteen people of sub-Saharan origin were killed when they tried to swim across the border fence of the breakwater, due to containment actions. exercised by Spanish border agents.


The beach of tragedy

Sergio Torres. Tarajal border crossing and breakwater fence, Ceuta, July 2014

Such events led to the opening of a judicial case promoted by various civil society organizations, which was dismissed on October 30, 2019. In it, 16 civil guards were charged with the alleged crimes of homicide due to serious negligence resulting in death and denial of assistance, filing those of injuries and prevarication. Annually the "Marches of Dignity" are held in his memory (cear, 2020).


Malians on the Ceuta border

Sergio Torres. Benyunes, Morocco, August 22, 2014

“The future for me is to survive, because living is a risk. […] I currently have a plan and […] is that I am going to ride on the sea to go to Europe. […] He is not the first to leave his life in the sea. There are many for many years. […] There are dangers you have to face. There are obstacles, but it takes ten times more courage and ten times more anger to get there ”.

Spokesperson for Malian migrant group from Benyunes camp, personal communication, August 22, 2014

Between Bangladesh and Cameroon

Sergio Torres. ceti from Ceuta, July 18, 2014

In the Centers for Temporary Stay of Immigrants (ceti) of Ceuta and Melilla, where the first reception is given to migrants and refugees, people of different nationalities (with their respective customs) have to live together in a situation of emotional stress.

The role of the psychologist here is very important, because when they arrive, they are euphoric […], but when they realize that Ceuta is not the peninsula and that going through is not so easy, they come down.

Germinal Castillo, Spokesperson for the Ceuta Red Cross, personal communication of September 9, 2014


The long wait

Sergio Torres. Ceuta, July 28, 2014

Viewpoint located next to the slope of the road that led to the ceti of Ceuta. It was common to see them sitting at sunset watching the waters of the Strait, just as dinner time was approaching.


Lights and shadows at the Ceuta fair

Sergio Torres. Ceuta, August 6, 2014

During the city's patron saint festivities, sub-Saharan residents of the ceti later enter the center, although the National Police activated a special operation to prevent, with the dismantling of the attractions, trying to cross to the peninsula hidden in the trucks of the fairgrounds.


Syrian refugee camp

Sergio Torres. Plaza de los Reyes, Ceuta, July 11, 2014

Mohamad Ali Mahmoud (center) and Ahmad Hussein (right), Kurdish refugees.

[…] The first days we had a lot of problems with the police, because they harassed us. […] The war started so long ago, and they don't help us… it's a shame. Because unhcr It only intervenes to grant political asylum and has only recognized ten people. We only want to leave Ceuta to cross the Peninsula. We just want peace and freedom.

Mohamad Ali Mahmoud, personal communication, July 13, 2014

In the middle of the road

Sergio Torres. ceti from Melilla, August 14, 2014

Cameroonian resident of ceti of Melilla. With the arrival of Syrian refugee families, the center became so overcrowded that they had to place triple bunks outside the rooms.


The shops in the sun

Sergio Torres. ceti from Melilla, August 14, 2014

Red Cross tents with bunk beds. It was not allowed to take images of the barracks, where there were overcrowded situations.


The same sky for everyone

Sergio Torres. Tangier, Morocco August 1, 2014

Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes in Tangier. In the background, the Mohamed Mosque v. Migration management is also done from a humanitarian approach, in which the Catholic Church plays a relevant role, through the action of the different religious orders, for the protection and promotion of the human rights of migrants and refugees in transit. .


The holy feast of Ramadan: prayer and fasting at the border

Ceuta, multicultural city

Sergio Torres. Mosque on Avenida de Africa in Ceuta, July 4, 2014

In this city, the present coexists with its colonial past, as do the veils, the djellabas, the mosques and the Christian churches, or the Hindu temple and the Jewish synagogue. In the same way, different religious festivals are celebrated such as the procession of the Virgin of Africa, Ramadan, the feast of Ganesh (a joyous tradition in which this deity is strolled by a retinue of faithful through the streets among songs and flowers. to his sanctuary) or Hanukkah (with the ancient custom of lighting the lights at the door of the synagogue during winter).


Ramadan breakfast

Sergio Torres. El Morro, Ceuta, July 5, 2014

Breakfast to break the fast before dawn, offered by the Entre Dos Mares hotel. Chuparquía (Chebakia) is a traditional Moroccan Ramadan sweet, like harira soup, which act as a powerful restorative. The soup is usually accompanied by a boiled egg.


Purification of the soul

Sergio Torres. Ceuta, July 8, 2014

Sandals of the faithful at the entrance of the mosque.


The loyals

Sergio Torres. Ceuta, July 8, 2014

Mosque of the Benzú Ibn Ruchd Cultural Association.


Fishermen at sunset

Sergio Torres. Ceuta, July 5, 2014.

The muezzin called for prayer. That day the fast ended at 9:47 p.m., when the bustle of the streets began to be heard from all corners.


Larache reborn in Ramadan

Sergio Torres. Larache, Morocco, July 22, 2014

This coastal city on the Moroccan Atlantic is the reflection of a colonial city in decline, although during Ramadan, it regains all its splendor. Currently, it continues to be one of the exit points for the boats used by Moroccan migrants seeking to reach Spanish territory.


Prayer time in El Tarajal

Sergio Torres. Ceuta, Tarajal beach, July 8, 2014.

When we got to the beach that is located at the Tarajal border crossing, there were two men who were performing minor ablution before the prayer. They began to wash their hands and feet in the small fountains for bathers. Later, with a simple cardboard, they faced the sea to make their prayers. This is a quiet beach, but access to the border fence that reaches the sea is not possible. The posters of No passing that the Spanish authorities like so much dissuade you from crossing it on foot.

Field Journal Notes, July 8, 2014

The transfer of goods at border crossings

Tarajal Border Pass

Sergio Torres. Ceuta, July 2014

When Morocco became independent from Spain, customs was transferred to Ceuta, but the African country never accepted the existence of a commercial border, nor Spanish sovereignty over the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla.


The reception of Moroccan taxi drivers

Sergio Torres. Tarajal border crossing, Morocco, July 2014

Taxi rank, just outside the Tarajal border. After the war with Morocco, Ceuta became the port of entry to the neighboring country. In addition, in 1918 a railway line that reached Tetouan was inaugurated, but it was cut after the independence process, although direct buses with the Ceuta-Castillejos-Tetuán and Tangier itinerary were maintained until 1975. When Franco died, this service it also ceased to exist. Now these journeys have to be made by taxi or in your own vehicle.


Panoramic view of the Príncipe Alfonso neighborhood

Sergio Torres. Ceuta, 2014

Image taken from the Mirador de Isabel ii. The neighborhood is considered not only a major source of poverty, but also of crime and jihadist terrorism. It is precisely there where the mafias dedicated to drug trafficking operate, in addition to the networks for the sale of false documentation and vehicles for migrant smuggling, whose activity is favored by its proximity to the Tarajal border crossing.


Roundabout of the neighborhood of the Prince

Sergio Torres. Ceuta, 2014

The neighborhood's bad reputation is motivated by the controversy and hype that politicians and the media give it […]. They have always been rebels. […] They have started with the eastern issue of jihadism. They caught ten bullshitters, who are not really terrorists or anything. They are people who… that there is no work and there is nothing. There is no social investment here to get them off the street. The other comes and goes to pray and they tell him, look, what they are doing to the Muslims. They're brainwashing him and getting him. […] The people in the center don't know anything. This is independent: from the gate of the field up and down. These people on one side are a world and those on the other, another world. The one in the center knows from the Prince what they hear in the TV, even if they are from Ceuta.

Reduan Mohamed, volunteer in Citizen Education, personal communication, July 15, 2014


The minaret

Sergio Torres. Ceuta, 2014.

The City Council had planned to invest 20 million euros from 2014 to 2020 to promote its urban regeneration. The proliferation of mosques and centers of worship was linked to the radicalization of young Muslims in the neighborhood, which has made border surveillance and police measures extreme, especially criminalizing this sector of the population.


The Biutz border crossing

Sergio Torres. Ceuta, July 2014

In the morning, the National Police agents prevented access and the taking of images in this restricted area, where pedestrian carrying of goods took place.


Tarajal industrial estate outside of business hours

Sergio Torres. Ceuta, July 2014

“Atypical trade” or smuggling activities were carried out in this polygon near the Prince, until its indefinite suspension in October 2019.


Porters forming a row

Sergio Torres. Ceuta, 2014

An average of 6,000 to 8,000 women porters crossed the border daily through the Biutz pass, collecting goods in the Polígono del Tarajal, to cross it again with heavy bundles (Fuentes-Lara, 2018, pp. 83-84).


Porter woman accompanied by a blind person

Sergio Torres. Ceuta, July 2014

Most of the porters are widowed women, disowned, with family responsibilities and very poor. The end of the porting has meant that their situation worsens, due to the lack of governmental alternatives. Many of the porters come from rural areas of the Wilaya of Tetouan, and they have to make a living as best they can in the informal sector.


Vendor of prickly pears (tunas) with the typical berber costume

Sergio Torres. Tetouan, Morocco, July 2014

In the vicinity of the Medina of the capital of the Wilaya Tetuaní, groups of women of the Amazigh ethnic group tend to concentrate (Alonso-Meneses, 1997) who live from street vendors.


On a route through the countryside

MI Perelló and Sergio Torres. Tetouan, Morocco, July 2014

In these places, it is common to see people on the side of the roads selling fruit and vegetables.


Preparing the race by pushing

Sergio Torres. Ceuta, 2014

The National Police carried out the tasks of surveillance of an atypical business that took place in deplorable working conditions and offered damaging images. Avalanches were frequent, causing deaths.


The gathering

Sergio Torres. Polígono Industrial del Tarajal, Ceuta, July 2014

The porters, known as “mules”, received a commission per bale of € 5 to € 10, depending on what they loaded on them, which required them to make several trips on the same day (Fuentes-Lara, 2018, pp. 83 -84). In the warehouses they packed blankets, sneakers, sportswear, etc. When the agents of the National Police allowed them to pass, they started running shouting towards the warehouses, to be the first to load the goods.


Porter looking for a position

Sergio Torres. Ceuta, 2014

In February 2017, the Tarajal border crossing was opened ii to carry out the porting, through which some 3,000 people came to transit daily until it was unilaterally closed in October 2019 by Morocco (Europa Press, 2019).


His whole life behind his back

Sergio Torres. Polígono del Tarajal, Ceuta, July 2014

To the right of the image, very old Berber porters women and another one on crutches.


Chinatown border crossing

Sergio Torres. Melilla, 2014

The suspension of the shipment reached the commercial customs of Melilla, although in February 2020 it was reactivated (Ceuta al día, 2020).


Beni Enzar border crossing

Sergio Torres. Melilla, 2014

The state of alarm decreed in the countries by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, forced the exceptional closure of all borders between countries (García, 2020).


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