- By Reid StandishReid Standish is an assistant digital producer at Foreign Policy. A native of British Columbia, he holds a BA in international studies from Simon Fraser University and an MA from the University of Glasgow. He has lived in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine, where he reported on drug trafficking, environmental degradation, and the Eurasian Union.
If you thought the United States was alone in facing a crisis on its borders, think again. Since Saturday, Spain’s coast guard has picked up nearly 1,200 migrants in the Strait of Gibraltar trying to cross into European territory from North Africa. On Tuesday, meanwhile, roughly 600 more were caught scaling barbed wire fences, attempting to enter the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta in North Africa.
Due to the short distance from Africa and its enclaves, Spain is a top destination for African migrants hoping to enter the European Union, but other southern European countries are also being overwhelmed by migrants. The Italian navy stopped more than 2,000 migrants on Saturday and Sunday who were attempting to make the dangerous boat journey across the Mediterranean. In total, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 75,000 migrants have tried to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa since January, landing in Italy, Greece, Spain, and Malta. That figure dwarfs the estimated 52,000 unaccompanied children from Honduras and other Central American countries who reached the southern U.S. border between October 2013 and mid-June, sparking a political firestorm.
The summer months typically see large numbers of migrants crossing from Africa to Spain in search of asylum or illegal work. But according to the Spanish coast guard, this summer has been one of the worst on record because of calmer seas and lax policing by authorities in Morocco, which migrants use as their launching pad for Spain. Frontex, the European Union’s agency for external border security, told the Spanish daily El País on Wednesday that Moroccan authorities were probably turning a blind eye to the situation in order to alleviate their own migratory pressures, adding that Morocco’s police and coast guard had not been out on patrol since Monday. This has not only seen unprecedented numbers of African migrants making the short boat trip across the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain, but has also seen thousands attempting to enter Spain through its enclaves in Africa.
About 600 migrants used makeshift wooden ladders on Tuesday to try to scale the 20-foot razor-wire barriers that separate Morocco from the Spanish enclave of Melilla. At least 30 people managed to enter Melilla, while another 50 were detained by Spanish authorities. Following the first barrier surge, another attempt was made an hour later by around 200 people who tried to scale the wall at a different location, although no one succeeded in breaking through, as can be seen in the video below.
Spain is currently trying to figure out how to keep other migrants from making their way in. The Spanish interior ministry held an emergency meeting on Wednesday to look at increasing border security. New measures have not been announced yet, but as with the growing crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border, Spanish leaders and their European counterparts will have to find ways of trying to address what is a growing global problem.