Melilla strengthens border defenses after summer of mass entry attempts

Spanish exclave in North Africa reintroduces controversial razor wire to top of six-meter high frontier fence

Civil Guard photograph of a truck and the new security elements being added to the fence in Melilla.
Civil Guard photograph of a truck and the new security elements being added to the fence in Melilla.EFE

The Spanish exclave of Melilla has reverted to a measure not seen in six years: placing razor-wire on top of the six-meter high border fence that extends around the coastal city in North Africa.

The Interior Ministry has started the process of adding the razor wire to the top of the 11km fence after a summer of continuous, concerted attempts to breach the frontier by increasingly organized, and desperate, groups of immigrants; around a hundred people managed to enter the exclave in a mass attempt staged by three times that number in June, while in September security forces in both Melilla and Ceuta, its sister exclave, buckled under the weight of hundreds of sub-Saharans attempting to reach European soil by land and by sea.

The razor wire was removed in 2007 because of the scale of the injuries it inflicted on people trying to climb the fence. This situation had led to protests by NGOs in Spain and internationally. At the same time as the wire was introduced, the fence was raised from three meters in height to six.

The migratory pressure on Melilla, and to a lesser extent Ceuta, has this year been similar in scale to 2005, when former Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero ordered the wire to be installed. A year later, Zapatero promised to take it down because of the injuries being suffered by would-be immigrants. It was finally removed in 2007 and substituted with a three-dimensional towrope, which is sometimes described as the “third wall.”

The wire will not be deployed along the entire length of the fence but in approximately a third of it. “It will be put in places where it has been determined that the most attempts to enter occur,” said the central government delegate in Melilla, Abdelmalik el Barkani. The work is expected to be completed by the end of November.

“The reintroduction of the razor wire on the perimeter fence in Melilla represents an astonishing return to the dark tradition of fortification,” wrote Xavier Ferrer, an expert in frontiers and professor of geography at the Autónoma University of Barcelona. To reinforce the fence further still, mesh netting will be installed which will make it harder for would-be immigrants to climb and a second patrol helicopter will be deployed.

Europe has been forced into a period of reflection on immigration policy after a series of disasters involving African immigrants off the coasts of Italy, with huge loss of life, and reports of dozens of Nigeriens dying of thirst in the Sahara. Italy has said it will use drones and treble its naval patrols in an effort to prevent more tragedies in its waters.

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