All eyes were on the blue suitcase. At 2.30pm last Friday, a Civil Guard officer watched with interest as a Moroccan man dragged a huge holdall through the checkpoint at Beni Enzar, which separates Morocco from the Spanish exclave of Melilla. The officer looked on as the man staggered under the badly distributed weight of his burden and decided to take a closer look. “He called out to him several times to inspect the bag but the man did not pay any attention,” Civil Guard sources said on Sunday.
When challenged again, the man dropped the case and fled into Spanish territory. Inside the piece of luggage was a 19-year-old sub-Saharan immigrant attempting to reach Europe illegally.
“He was tall, thin and with a considerable physique. We’re not talking about a small person here,” said Civil Guard spokesman Juan Antonio Martín Rivera, who added that other border agents gave chase and apprehended the 39-year-old 150 meters from the checkpoint.
The younger man was dressed in jeans, a blue shirt and trainers. “This boy, who is a victim, did not need any medical attention and was handed over to the National Police,” the Civil Guard said. He was transferred to a CETI temporary immigration holding center and also appeared before a judge as a witness, with the suitcase labeled as evidence.
The Moroccan, who is a legal resident of Lleida, Catalonia, was placed in custody on suspicion of a crime against the rights of foreign nationals. “Naturally, it is the first time we have come across an attempt like this to illegally enter Spain, although a couple of years ago there was a similar incident. We found an immigrant in the boot of a car, hidden inside a large bag,” Rivera said.
At first, the officers thought they would find a protected species of animal in the suitcase, but were “surprised” to find the young African, who told the authorities he was from Mali.
On Sunday four sub-Saharan immigrants managed to reach EU soil by swimming around the seawall border in Ceuta, Spain’s other North African exclave. There are thought to be around 700 would-be immigrants massed on the border, according to Moroccan reports handed to the central government delegate in the city.
The four successful swimmers were the first to reach Ceuta following the tragedy of February 6, when at least 15 immigrants died in a mass attempt to rush the fences. In desperation, dozens of people took to the water to evade the security forces on land. Spanish Civil Guard officers subsequently opened fire with rubber bullets, a matter that is being investigated by Spain and has drawn sharp criticism from the European community and human rights groups.