Desperate sub-Saharan Africans keep trying to reach a little slice of Spain and, they hope, the chance of a better life on the Moroccan coast. Patrolled by soldiers and surrounded by fences laced with razor wire, the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta have offered would-be immigrants a one-way ticket to mainland Spain; people who got through were typically released in Spain after 40 days, since no repatriation agreements exist with their native countries. While Melilla and Ceuta have attracted African migrants since the mid-1990s, the Spanish Civil Guard estimates that 13,000 people have tried to breach the border this year in Melilla alone, spurred by famine.
Last Wednesday, at least 65 men and boys out of more than 500 made it to Melilla. When others tried again in greater numbers on Thursday, only one got through and six died, some crushed by the crowd and some reportedly shot by Moroccan police. The local governor said police had used "legitimate defense" in the face of a violent assault.
Spain's conservative opposition blames Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, claiming that the "regularization" of some 700,000 illegal immigrants earlier this year encouraged others. Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said Rabat had agreed to forcibly repatriate some of the immigrants currently in Melilla. Critics of the new accord say foisting the problem on Morocco is no solution. "They're driving them in buses to the Algerian desert with no water or food," claims Pepe Alonso, a Melilla lawyer who heads the local chapter of the Association for Human Rights. "This will cause many deaths." Médecins Sans Frontières said more than 500 immigrants had
been abandoned by Moroccan authorities in the desert near the Algerian border.
Neither the new measures nor a proposed third fence are likely to be a deterrent. "We try three or four times a week, until we make it," says Nikail, 21, who trekked for a year from Mali to the now denuded woods outside Melilla. "We have no choice: either we get over the fences or we die." That's the sort of desperation that will continue to propel migrants toward the wire.