Worlds collide in the Spanish exclave of Ceuta

Worlds collide in the Spanish exclave of Ceuta

NAyman and his friends meet at the entrance to the Lidl branch at the port of Ceuta. They help customers store their purchases and earn a few cents. You are tired and shivering while the Christmas lights flash in front of the supermarket. They don’t pay attention to that, their eyes are directed towards the harbor and the other shore. To where Spain is. Europe is an hour away. In the dark, the lights of Algeciras seem seductively close. As if you could swim across.

In fact, only a high fence separates the Moroccan boys who live on the streets of Ceuta from the pier where ferries across the Strait of Gibraltar depart. The youngest of the two dozen boys is 14 years old, Ayman a year older. He’s from Castillejos just over the border. Four months ago he completed the first stage towards Europe. Unlike hundreds of Africans every year, he didn’t even try to scale the six-meter-high fences that surround Ceuta. Ayman just went to the sea with his friends and swam to Tarajal Beach. He made it and is still sad. “My school friend Abdellah never showed up again. He has disappeared to this day,” says Ayman.

The sea glitters peacefully in the winter sun. But peace is deceptive. The sea hasn’t given up many anymore. “That doesn’t deter us,” says Abdeselam Mohamed. In the summer, 80 young Moroccans tried to get to Ceuta in this way. “Although more than forty have drowned in the past year and a half.” Just a few days ago, another young person died, he was only 17 years old.

The 63-year-old Spaniard brings Ayman and his friends their only meal of the day every afternoon. The dream of a better life in Europe’s outpost hasn’t brought her much more than that. Abdeselam Mohamed hands out small loaves of bread, tortillas, milk, juice and a few magdalenas. “Alas Protectoras” is the name of his small organization, whose name can be translated as “protective wings”. It’s not just the street kids who need this Morocco, but also more and more of the 84,000 inhabitants of Ceuta. The exclave is one of the poorest autonomous regions in Spain. One of the largest social hotspots in the whole country is located near the Gran Vía, a main street decorated for Christmas with branches of well-known fashion chains.

Ayman and his friends wanted to be gone a long time ago. Ceuta is Africa Springboard to Europe. In the detention center, around 300 migrants from countries like Guinea and Sudan are just waiting for the authorities to take them to the mainland, where they can then do whatever they want. Ayman and the other boys at the harbor also dream of this. They are too impatient to wait in one of the shelters for minors, which currently house 230 young Moroccans. “If they prefer to stay on the streets, then something is going wrong in these facilities,” says Abdeselam Mohamed.

A shock for Ceuta

After May 17, 2021, some of the accommodation was hastily set up in empty factory buildings and living containers. What happened then came as a shock to Ceuta, some comparing it to a storm surge. Morocco closed the border with Spain in March 2020 because of the corona pandemic. But suddenly the Moroccan officials stopped their work. They let everyone pass and even encouraged residents of neighboring towns to go to Ceuta. Even school children are said to have been taken to the fence. Police officers reportedly said football stars Ronaldo and messi on them. More than 8000 Moroccans rushed and swam across. For days they wandered the streets, slept in the parks.

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