Ethnographic adventures at Europe's African frontier
Sunday, 19 September 2010
The summer of discontent
In the city-enclave of Ceuta, I’ve been too busy to blog. Anger is stirring among African migrants, who have take to hitting folded-up pieces of carton against the tarmac in protest against the years they think await them in this minuscule Spanish slice of Africa before deportation. Until recently, the cartonazos rang out like pistol shots along Ceuta’s otherwise soporific shopping street, accompanied by chants of Africa Liberté and, of all things, waka waka. Now it’s all quiet again – some migrants were sent off to the peninsula, others detained pending trial. Leaving this tense and tiring standoff, I head for another: Melilla, Spain's second enclave on the North African coast.
So here we are. “Spanish-occupied Melilla”, as my Rough Guide puts it (to the chagrin of any English-speaking Iberian conservatives) is rather depressing, too. Rundown Art Nouveau buildings. Elegant but empty avenues, lined by shops straight out of the fifties. Streets named after long-dead fascist falangistas. Garrisons. Hawkers. Rain. Melilla – unlike its sparkling sister enclave – seems positively postcolonial: the fading grandeur and the flaking residences recall India’s Pondicherry and Cochin, or Malaysia’s Penang. It’s a town wholly at the mercy of its Moroccan hinterland, where discontent is stirring, too.
Still, Melilla tries its utmost to be Spain proper. Mariano Rajoy – the veteran leader of the country’s conservative opposition – came for a visit this week, journalists thronging round him. The TV crews also ganged up at the border to hunt angry Moroccan activists with their cameras; eventually they found a handful. Meanwhile the Melillenses shake their heads, yawn. A few of the usual suspects might be waving their banners and pancartas over at the shabby border post of Beni Enzar in protest against the Spanish leader's "provocative" visit to the "occupied" city, but that’s enough to set a whole media circus rolling, replete with roaring lions of the Spanish hard right, Moroccan politician-acrobats manoeuvring to outflank their neighbour, and the odd clown or two. Nos están toreando, says a Melillan lawyer – the Moroccans are the matador, Spain the wounded bull.
Stuck in between the sword and the bull's horns are the migrants. Sub-Saharan clandestinos have arrived in the past few weeks at a rate not seen in years, prompting speculation in the Spanish Congress about Morocco letting them through, flung like human projectiles across the water in their improbable, inflatable “toy” boats. Now the CETI – the migrant holding centre here – is working way beyond its capacity. Last week, dozens of Bangladeshis were rounded up after five years as model migrants in Melilla: deportation, presumably, awaits them. And, as in Ceuta, unease is breeding among those left behind. My summer of discontent in Ceuta might turn into an autumn of anger over here.