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Arno Brignon | End of Europe in Ceuta

On the road from TĂ©touan to Ceuta. Ceuta is located a few tens of kilometers from Tangier, forming, on the African continent, the other cape of the Strait of Gibraltar. Ceuta is also a dead end, crossed by the Moroccans from Europe who took the ferry from Algeciras to reach the region of Tetouan by the most direct route.

Ceuta is a reflection in the waters of the Strait of Gibraltar of an Europe in crisis. Surrounded by a high security fence, it looks like a trap in which migrant Moroccans and Spaniards seem stuck waiting for promises of better days…

In the extreme south of Europe, Ceuta (Sebta in Arabic), a Spanish enclave in Morocco territory, is the gateway from Europe to Africa located 17 km away from the other pillar of Hercules: Gibraltar.

The border looks very impressive but it is not so tight. Many potential immigrants cross it expecting to find here an entry to Europe. In the other direction all kinds of goods enter to feed the Moroccan market. Ceuta as a Free Zone, and tax haven, is also the realm of small business and financial settlements. A trade tolerated by the authorities, because it makes the fortune of the Spanish community, is organized with the Moroccan border. Goods are moving on the back of Moroccan women, real mules.

72,000 people live in this so special city. “La convivencia”, a declared policy of coexistence between the four dominant communities (Hindu, Jewish, Christian and Muslim) is now a reality in the workplace but does not seem to be so harmonious a coexistence. The Muslim community is the largest in number but is particularly affected by unemployment, underperforming at school, and housing problems.

In Ceuta, the police, army, customs are everywhere, but the law is often a matter of small arrangements.

View of the Strait of Gibraltar. Family meal on a beach on November 1. For Christians, this is the day of All Saints (All Saints’ day); in Ceuta, the tradition is to spend a day in the country taking a backpack with sandwiches, dried fruit and seasonal fruits: chestnuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, etc. … This originates in the old custom of visiting the cemetery to bring flowers to the dead and stay all day with them.
Ceuta, Free Zone. Thousands of women cross this border every day, loaded with huge bundles: diapers, demijohns of honey, toasts, hi-fi equipment… Customs officials are ignoring this daily traffic of an army of ants because it alleviates somewhat poverty in Northern Morocco. As for Ceuta, it lives on it and all its business depends on it.
Two young residents of the Arab neighborhood of Sarchal. There are four neighborhoods inhabited almost exclusively by the Moroccan community. This is the oldest and closest to the downtown. The North African community living in Ceuta, is the most affected by unemployment and casualization; but it is also the one with the fastest growth, now approaching 50% of the population. In schools, over 65% of students which have enrolled in primary education use ceutien Arabic named Dariya as their mother tongue and not Castilian.
Ana, a young Spanish student in Seville, with his parents in the center of Ceuta. Ceuta only has a very small college, most young people are forced to go on the peninsula to get tuition … and often stay there.
Ceuta, surrounding wall. On September 29, 2005, at about three o’clock in the morning, «500 sub-Saharan immigrants stormed the fences» (according to the prefecture) in an attempt to cross the security fences that are also the border between Morocco and this Spanish enclave. Six people died. Since then, the border and its check points have been reinforced mostly everywhere around the enclave.
Free Zone, Ceutan business park “Polygon Tarajal”. While an integral part of the EU, Ceuta is excluded from the customs union, it is also excluded from the Common Agricultural Policy, finally, it is exempt from the application of VAT. Ceuta lives on its border trade. The 20 km2 of the enclave have no agriculture or industry and the harbor keeps declining, facing competition from Gibraltar, and, increasingly, from Tangier. So Ceuta cannot close its border completely at the risk of “closing shop”. Every morning is the same ritual: some 10,000 Moroccans cross the Spanish border and rush into the maze of the gigantic business park “Polygon Tarajal” of Ceuta. Patient, they move forward step by step in a queue a mile long where thousands of women, but as well blind and elderly, share the same lot. These are the portadoras (carriers), also known as mujeres mulas (mules women).
Ceuta, near the border post. To maintain the close relationships that Ceuta has with its Moroccan hinterland, a waiver has been granted to Moroccans living in the region of Tetouan (a town located 40 km from Ceuta), they do not have to present a visa to travel to Ceuta for small-scale cross-border trade purpose.
Border between Morocco and Ceuta. Only one border post allows to enter Ceuta. It is located on the east coast of the city, facing Tetouan, a city with which the most important exchanges happen. Security fence, the border is 16kms long and is only opened at one point through which freight and passenger transit.
Thousands of women every day carry on their backs loads of up to 150 pounds to fuel the trade between the Spanish enclave of Ceuta and Morocco. Under the blankets that cover these giant parcels, there are all sorts of products: T-shirts, shoes, diapers, shampoo or household products. Sometimes also slip liquor bottles or electronic products (stereos, mobiles …). Madrid has strengthened the police contingent in order to prevent accidents. “We try to institute rules in a chaotic and inhuman trading system”, admits a police officer. The new rules are basic: obligation to walk in a corridor bounded by a security cordon, no wearing of packets too prominent, no running, and obligation to always have one hand free to hold onto in a fall.
Spanish bar downtown. Is Ceuta Spanish ? Four communities coexist peacefully in the city of Ceuta. The Christian community, which is in a dominant position, The Muslim community (the largest in population), a small Jewish community arrived in the late 19th century and a small Hindu community. The Convivencia concept of harmonious coexistence appeared in the 80s as a goal. However, it appears that nowadays cohabitation is not as smooth as the authorities st ate …”
Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar. Many round trips take place each day between Algeciras and Ceuta. This crossing is heavily used by Moroccans from the region of Tetouan living in Europe, and even more by European tourists traveling to Morocco. The formalities are often shorter than in the port of Tangier, and it is also an opportunity to benefit from the free zone and its duty-free products. Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar is the world’s most expensive (relative to the cost per km). Ceuta inhabitants benefit from preferential rates to reach the peninsula, as long as the ferry is, with the helicopter, the only link with the rest of Spain.
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