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Migrants Try To Enter Europe Through Spanish Territory In Africa


Yesterday on this program, we heard the story of an American businessman and his wife who spent $8 million of their own money to start a rescue service for migrants in the Mediterranean. Each year, tens of thousands of mostly African migrants cross the sea in rafts and dinghies in search of a better life in Europe. Today, we're going to tell you about another way those migrants get into Europe, over land. Reporter Lauren Frayer joins us now from the border between Africa and Europe - a place that may surprise you - a speck of Spanish land across the Mediterranean in North Africa. Good morning, Lauren.


MONTAGNE: Tell us more about this land border.

FRAYER: Well, I'm in Ceuta. It's one of two Spanish territories in Africa. Ceuta is a Spanish city of 80,000 on the North African coast, and it's surrounded by huge fences that separate Spanish soil from Morocco. And it's that huge fence where tens of thousands of migrants try to jump into Spanish territory each year. Now, the reason they do that is because once you're here in Ceuta, you're legally in Europe. So from here, you can hop a ferry to the mainland and head northward.

Now, I've been talking to migrants who've made that jump, most of whom are from sub-Saharan Africa. They travel across the continent of Africa, end up in Morocco where they often camp out in a forest there, often pay human smugglers to hide them in trucks. Some swim around the border. The fence juts out into the Mediterranean there or jump that fence. And so in a way, it's very similar to the northward flow of migrants from South and Central America up to the U.S.-Mexico border. A lot of the migrants here have already traveled hundreds of miles to get to this border, often in desperate conditions.

MONTAGNE: Which sounds like they must have some pretty harrowing stories of those journeys. Now, you said you got a chance to talk to some of them. What did they tell you?

FRAYER: I did. I visited a detention center where Spain houses some of these migrants while processing their requests for asylum or travel documents. It's a lengthy legal process, and there are no guarantees that these migrants will make it to mainland Europe. Most are young men traveling on their own, some fleeing violence back home, and almost all of them have these dreams of working in Europe and sending money home to their families in Africa. Here's a 29-year-old man I talked to. His name is Muhamed Sisuku from Guinea in West Africa.

MUHAMED SISUKU: I want to go to Europe and continue my educations if I have the chance. So some people think Europe is a better place to live. So for people who don't have the chance in Africa or even Guinea, try to go out and find a way to get something or to study. You understand?

FRAYER: Muhamed still doesn't know if he will be allowed to travel north to the rest of Europe.

MONTAGNE: And, Lauren, what does Ceuta feel like to be part of Spain but also part of Africa?

FRAYER: So, Renee, this is a place of contradictions. There are medieval castle walls, beautiful Mediterranean beaches. This has been a European territory for 600 years. About half the people here of European descent, and half are Arabic-speaking Muslims. You have fashion shops, but not far from slums without running water. This city has one of the highest poverty and unemployment rates in all of Europe. There's a huge narco-trafficking industry on this border.

So this territory is really not very well-equipped to handle this humanitarian drama with these migrants arriving. It's struggling with a good many of its own problems. Spain calls this city its Achilles heel when it comes to terrorism. They worry that all this poverty can lead to radicalization. And there have been several arrests in recent months of local people planning terror attacks. You know, with their Spanish passports, they can travel freely across Europe.

MONTAGNE: That's Lauren Frayer speaking to us from Ceuta, Spain, on the coast of North Africa. Thank you very much.

FRAYER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.

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