A Surge Of Migrants At The Border ... Of Spain
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
We've reported a lot on this program about thousands of people, many of them small children alone, taking a dangerous journey north to escape conflicts in Central America to reach the United States. Now, a story not all that different is playing out in another part of the world. Spain has seen a spike in migration from Africa recently, and Lauren Frayer, who reports for NPR from Spain, is on the line with us from Madrid. Lauren, good morning.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Good morning.
GREENE: So how many people are arriving in Spain, and who exactly are they?
FRAYER: Well, we've seen more than 1,200 people arrive in rubber rafts, makeshift boats this week, and they're mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, although they do depart from Morocco. They've traveled a long time. Many of them stop and work along the way, then pick up the journey again and often pay smugglers to help them cross those borders. So for many of the migrants, this is a journey that takes years. For example, one couple I met who've arrived in Southern Spain - they left as a couple from Nigeria three years ago, and they arrived with a family of three kids. These are not just young people; these are families.
It's a huge wave of sort of all of humanity fleeing African wars and poverty. And thankfully with the arrivals this week, no one died because even with calmer waters this week on the Straits of Gibraltar in the Mediterranean, it still can be a dangerous journey, especially in homemade rafts. And dozens of people do die every year.
GREENE: OK, so a dangerous journey, say on rafts. And we should just sort of orient people here. Once they actually make the crossing to Europe - this is happening from Morocco which is very close to Spain.
FRAYER: That's right, so Spain is the closest European country to Africa by sea. There's just nine miles of water that separate Spain's southern tip from Morocco. And from the Moroccan side, that proximity is pretty alluring. Europe, with its promise of jobs or refugee status, looks and actually is very close.
Now, there's also a land route between Africa and Spain. There are two Spanish city-states called Ceuta and Melilla. They're on the North African mainland bordering Morocco, and they're sort of colonial relics. But they're nevertheless Spanish soil. So if someone's able to cross from Morocco into one of those two territories, they've all the same rights as if they have landed in continental Europe. You don't need a passport to take a ferry from there to the mainland Spain or elsewhere.
So these territories are surrounded by huge fences, similar to what you might see along parts of the U.S.-Mexico border. And yesterday, more than 1,300 Africans tried to storm those fences. Many of them couldn't get across because Spain recently fortified the fences with anti-climbing mesh, but some did. And 80 men ended up stranded on top of a three-story-high fence - sitting on top of it with Spanish border guards watching them below. And now all of this played out on my TV. Spain was really transfixed by this all, and after 10 hours - this is in the heat of August on the edge of the Sahara - border guards and aid workers managed to get them down. They were dehydrated, frightened but OK.
GREENE: Then, Lauren, what happened to these 80 men once they were rescued from the top of this fence?
FRAYER: So like all migrants, it largely depends on their nationality. If they're Moroccan, Spanish authorities send them back immediately. But the majority of Africans coming across to Spain are from sub-Saharan Africa, and they're sent to Red Cross shelters. Just to give you an idea of what the situation is like there this week - one of those shelters with 500 beds has 1,200 people in it right now. Legally, if Spain can figure out someone's home country, it can deport them. So many migrants have told me that they throw away their identity cards or refuse to speak so that authorities can't tell which language they speak and therefore where they come from. Often a huge proportion of the women coming across are pregnant. And that's because if they give birth in Spain, the baby has certain residency rights, and authorities won't split mothers from children.
GREENE: All right, we've been talking about a wave of migration from Africa into Spain with reporter Lauren Frayer in Madrid. Lauren, thanks very much.
FRAYER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.