Morocco's slum swarm with desperate African refugees risking their lives to go to Europe. The human smugglers are their rescuers - because all legal roads to the European Union end blind. In this essay I will look in the situation on the Straight of Gibraltar and see how the smugglers work. This summer I went from Tangier, a harbor city in the north of Morocco, to Ceuta, crossing the border from Morocco into Spain. The control was extremely tight and it took a very long time to get permission to enter Ceuta because we went through passport check 3 times. Around us, there were a high fence, which was impossible to jump over, and there was police everywhere, also in the sea where they were constantly on patrol.
It was really strange to go from a poor, messy place, cross the border and suddenly be in the European Union. And even more strange to look back and imagine all those refugees and poor people behind us, for whom to enter Europe is their biggest dream, though they aren't getting permission to cross the border because they have a passport from the wrong country. In the slum district of Tangier most of the refugees begin their risky journey to Europe, crossing the dangerous Straight of Gibraltar. This place is also where the Moroccan mafia works and a lot of money is being earned. A human smuggler can in one night earn $ 10, 000, which is more than a yearly wage for a Moroccan fisherman. But the work can be very dangerous.
Many of boats have gone down because of the strong currents in the straight and because the boats are always extremely overloaded. If you ask a human smuggler, this is not what they are most afraid of. As a result of the European Union's police cooperation, the Spanish coast patrol has increased the hunt for illegal Moroccan sailors and the punishment for human smuggling has been increased. If you get caught in smuggling people, you will now get 2 to 3 years of prison in Spain and even more in Morocco. Before, it was only Moroccan refugees who crossed the straight, but today people come from very distant places such as Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Mali and other West African states. The price they have to pay is $ 1000 for the 14-kilometer-long journey, but the smugglers only get one-third of that amount.
The rest is for the Moroccan mafia which job it is to make the contact to the Africans and organizes the trips. The refugees normally go to the slum district in Tangier called Souk Dak hel. Here they stay for some months, living in cheap boarding houses where they pay $ 2 a night for a mattress and a quilt. The food is prepared on a gas cooker and they all eat of the same pot. They have to keep the costs as low as possible, because they have to save the $ 1000 it costs to go to Europe, and it's almost impossible for them to find a job. Many people stay for more than a year before they have collected enough money.
Some of the refugees are really desperate, and many use another method to get to the rich north. Every night, at least 100 people crawl over the fence to the export area at the harbor of Tangier where they try their luck as illegal passengers on a European lorry. The truck drivers are not impressed by the Moroccan police. They aren't doing enough to guard the harbor area and the drivers are scared. A lot of the drivers have been threatened with knives and forced to smuggle people over. The immigrants are really desperate and you never know how far they are willing to go.
But for the British export drivers it's also about money. They get a fine of $ 4000 if they bring an illegal passenger to Great Britain. The European Union wants this law to be for the whole union. A one hour drive east of Tangier, you will find the Spanish city, Ceuta. This small European colony in Africa is a relic of colonization and is still a part of Spain, in the same way that Gibraltar belongs to Great Britain. Until this spring, Ceuta was a popular entrance to Europe for asylum seekers and poor refugees from North and Central Africa.
That time is soon over. Now Spain is almost finished with an ambitious million-dollar project which will make it impossible to pass the border without papers. All the way around Ceuta, there is a 4-meter-high fence provided with electronic sensors that register even the smallest movement. In addition to that the authorities have just build 17 watch towers with strong light canons and automatic cameras. In Ceuta the, people call it the new Berlin wall. They say that the only difference is that the new wall will keep the poor people out instead of in.
The new wall is working after its purpose. Last year 2000 people lived in Ceuta's refugee center - now there is only living 350 and the number is decreasing. Ceuta's refugee center, which is financed by the European Union, looks like a prison with a high fence, camera supervision and a control post where a group of rottweilers keep trespassers away. Almost all the refugees here will be sent back after a while.
Only 5 % of the asylum seekers get asylum in Spain. This is the lowest number in Europe. Ceuta is a paradise for windsurfers with its high waves and strong wind. But this also means the death of hundreds of Africans.
Every week has its sacrifices. The sad fact is that almost every day, a dead body of a refugee is washed ashore or caught in a fisherman's net. Source listing: The New York Times, Under Pressure, Spain Tries to Close an Open Door, October 10 th 2004 (web) Dagblad et Arbejderen, 3800 done ved EU's, july 30 th 2003 (web ID = 17&A ID = 9366&C ID = &T ID = &mode = ) web k s / spaniel . html#gibraltar-straedetSpanish government immigration policy costs migrant lives (web).