Following criticism from the European Commission, Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz on Thursday defended the Spanish government’s decision to install razor wire on the border fence between Morocco and its North African enclave of Melilla.
Speaking in Brussels, Fernández Díaz said that if the use of the deterrent breached European Union rules, the government would consider removing it, but added that so far there have been no indications that this is the case. He argued that other EU countries use similar methods to dissuade would-be illegal immigrants.
Fernández Díaz said he had held a “long and cordial” talk on the issue on Wednesday with the EU commissioner for home affairs, Cecilia Malmström.
Referring to a previous occasion when Melilla had razor wire installed, Malmström said in a press conferecnce: “From what I read [the razor wire] did not stop people from coming in; they just arrived with more injuries. If that was true then, it must be true now.”
“She had the idea, and she expressed this to me, that the concertina wire was not an effective deterrent and that it caused serious injuries,” Díaz Fernández acknowledged. He said he told her that the Spanish government’s position was that it was a “passive, non-aggressive and dissuasive method” to stem a flood of illegal immigration.
“We are not aware of any EU legislation that prohibits this,” Díaz Fernández added. “Right here in Brussels, the Belgian police use it on occasions and other European countries do as well. We know that EU member countries have installed it on their borders. But we are ready, as always, to reconsider our decision, if it were the case [that it was illegal].
“They took 12 hours to sew me up after I jumped”
Kenjo, 38, spent the final hours of the night of December 3, 2006 hidden in a huge garbage container with other Cameroonian immigrants in Mariguari, right next to the border between Morocco and the Spanish north African exclave of Melilla. “It was raining heavily,” he remembers in a café in the Valencia town where he has lived for the past six years. A soldier by profession, he has no papers and has an expulsion order hanging over him, which is why he insists that we do not publish his real name.
It was his fourth attempt to illegally enter the city. In July of that year he had even managed it without too much effort: “Some of the Moroccan officers [belonging to the Auxiliary Forces’ paramilitary corps] who camp out right next to the fence had dug tunnels less than 10 meters long that led into Melilla so they could carry out their shady deals, or let immigrants in by paying. Even though the entrance was covered we located a tunnel and when the officers were asleep we went in, but once in Melilla the Civil Guard caught us and expelled us via a door in the fence” – though not without first asking where they had gotten across. “We didn’t tell them because who knew if we would use that tunnel again?”
It was raining so much that December night that Kenjo decided to take off his sneakers – “because they were soaked with water and mud and weighed a lot” – and some of his clothes so as to be able to scale the fence more nimbly alongside three of his countrymen. “As soon as we started going up we got hurt by the razor wire,” he recalls. “But I got the deepest cuts at the top, in the abdomen and in the hands.”
“Thank God I managed to fall on the Spanish side,” he says. He was taken to the Melilla Regional Hospital where he was admitted and sewn up. They took “12 hours, from six in the morning to six in the evening. “To this day I’m still embarrassed to put on a bathing costume at the beach,” he says as he shows the scars on his arms and legs.
José Palazón, the head of Melilla NGO Prodein, met Kenjo on a visit to the hospital, finding him in his bed “all bandaged up: legs, arms, hands and midriff.” The fact Kenjo had climbed semi-naked meant he was more vulnerable to the razor wire – even in the height of summer the sub-Saharan migrants usually climb wearing several layers of clothing to protect themselves.
Kenjo’s cuts were “horrific,” according to Palazón, but he was not the migrant to be worst affected. Sambo Sadiako, a Senegalese migrant, ended up caught on the top of the border fence between Morocco and Ceuta one windy night in 2009 and “died from blood lost through the force of the wind knocking his body against the wire fence,” which was dotted with razor wire, wrote Carmen Echarrí, editor of the El Faro de Ceuta newspaper.
The razor wire “even tore the industrial gloves that one of my countrymen obtained from a job and put on in order to jump,” says Bertín Makoumson, another Cameroonian, who spent nine months living at the migrant shanty camp on Mount Gurugú waiting to jump into Melilla. He studied biology in Nigeria and even worked in a laboratory. “I was the closest thing there to a doctor; which is why I acted as a nurse on the mountain, first using out-of-date medicines that we took out of the trash and later with what the NGO Doctors Without Borders gave us,” says Makoumson, 44, who now lives legally in Bilbao.
“Each time those kids marched in the direction of the border, those who weren’t able to get over all came back wounded. The majority of the injuries were caused by the barbed wire and, secondly, by the blows dished out by the Moroccan security forces.”
In 2005 the Interior Ministry installed a mix of barbed and razor wire, along with twisted steel, metal mesh and a system for dispersing an irritant liquid that was never employed along the Melilla and Ceuta borders after they suffered an unprecedented number of jump attempts that year. But after seeing the harm they did, it removed them in 2007 – though only from the upper part of the Melilla fence.
Now, after new rises in the number of attempts to scale the fence in 2012 and 2013, Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz has ordered the razor wire to be put back on the three most active kilometers of the 12-kilometer Melilla fence. He insists it causes no significant harm, only superficial wounds, but that it is acts as a deterrent.
Is that really so? “With or without it, Africans will keep on trying,” answer Kenjo and Makoumson, in almost identical words, from Valencia and Bilbao.
Brussels has sharp words for Spain over razor wire migrant fence
The European Commission does not look favorably upon the razor wire that Spain is installing on the border fence between Morocco and its exclave of Melilla as a deterrent against illegal immigration.
The commissioner for home affairs, Cecilia Malmström, said on Wednesday that she will ask Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz for “all the details” of the project.
On Wednesday morning, around 40 sub-Saharans attempted to jump the fence in full daylight.
“From what I know about the time they took it down, the razor did not stop people from coming in; they just arrived with more wounds,” said Malmström about a previous time when the Melilla fence sported the flesh-ripping mesh. “If it was true then, it must be true now.”