If you zoom really far in on a map of Morocco, you’ll notice a little wedge of land that doesn’t belong to Morocco at all. It belongs to Spain. It’s a small city called Melilla. And it’s one of two Spanish enclaves in Morocco, marking Europe’s only land border with Africa.
Melilla feels just like the rest of Spain: the same language, food, architecture, and currency. You might as well be in mainland Europe.
It’s only when you walk to the periphery of town that you are reminded you’re on a different continent. There, you will see one of the most fortified barriers on the planet.
Right outside this obstacle, in the forests surrounding Melilla, you’ll find makeshift camps, constructed from scraps of tarp and trash. They are home to sub-Saharan Africans, biding their time, preparing for the day they will attempt to jump this barrier and set foot on European soil, where they hope to find a better life and benefit from the European Union’s migrant protection programs.
These migrants are a handful of the millions leaving their countries in Africa and the Middle East in hopes of reaching Europe. In recent years, a record number of displaced people have been fleeing war, famine, and political violence. They take many paths, each as dangerous as the next (and in many parts of Europe they face an increasingly hostile reception by nations which simply don’t want them).
The difficult path through Melilla is one of those routes.
I went to Melilla to see how Spain is handling this influx of migrants. While some countries are working hard to open their doors, others instead are building higher walls. This video explores what it’s like to be one of the people trying to scale this barrier separating Africa from Europe: