For most migrants from Africa, the last stage of their trip to Europe involves some sort of perilous sea crossing. At the border in Ceuta, there is just a fence.
Ceuta (pronounced say-YOU-tah) is one of the two Spanish communities on the north coast of what otherwise would be Morocco, the only places where Europe has land borders with Africa.The other enclave is Melilla, farther east along the same coast.
Here, all that separates Europe from migrants is a double fence, 20 feet high and topped with barbed wire, stretching the 4 miles across the peninsula and dividing tiny Ceuta from Morocco — plus 1,100 Spanish federal police and Guardia Civil officers, a paramilitary police force.
They patrol a crossing point that has come under growing pressure.
After Italy’s new government closed the door to migrants, efforts to cross into Spain have more than quadrupled in 2018, making it the No. 1 European destination for migrants from Africa.
In the week ending Aug. 12, according to the International Organization for Migration, 1,419 migrants reached Spain, compared with 359 to Italy and 527 to Greece.
But the sea crossing to Spain, through the narrow straits of Gibraltar, is more dangerous than other passages, because of strong currents where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic.
Through June, 294 migrants drowned in the western Mediterranean, compared with 224 in all of 2017 in that area.
That has made trying to breach Ceuta’s heavily guarded fence an increasingly attractive proposition, a way to enter Spain without crossing the water. On any given day, young migrant men can be seen prowling on the Moroccan side, looking for an opportunity.
As often happens, successful tries are made by what locals call “mobbing,” when hundreds of migrants surge over the fence in a large group. Salif’s group came on June 6, when 400 young men began climbing the fence at sunrise.
Two were seriously injured on the barbed wire, and hospitalized in Ceuta. Eight, including Salif, managed to get over, and were then allowed to stay in a reception center in Ceuta, awaiting transfer to the mainland.
There, they can apply for asylum, a process that can take many months or even years. Most will be turned down, and the deportation process is slow and difficult.
While people often do get hurt trying to pierce the fence, deaths are rare.
“All of Africa is here,” said Salif, ticking off migrants he has met from Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Senegal — and even some from Bangladesh and Pakistan.
And they keep coming.