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(The online version of this article appears in two parts. Click here to go to part one.)

THE first arrivals in Ceuta were predominantly able-bodied men in their twenties, destitute and half starved, their feet swollen from the journey. Later women and even young children began appearing. Some of the women arrive pregnant; according to the Red Cross, there is an average of one birth a month among the women in Calamocarro. A pregnant woman in labor was heaved over the frontier fence by companions last March; she was picked up by the border patrol and taken to a hospital in Ceuta, where she gave birth. In August a four-year-old child was tossed over the fence with a note pinned to her dress that read (in French), "Clarice, daughter of Moubiala Kipupa, citizen of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly Zaire...."

Most of the immigrants have reached Ceuta after lengthy overland journeys -- in buses and on foot, working whenever possible along the way (for instance, on farms or loading and unloading trucks), paying off traffickers and border police alike. Robbery and rape en route are said to be frequent. Upon arrival the immigrants are often sent money by friends and family members who are already established in Europe. Obtaining a mobile phone, usually rented or inherited from another immigrant, is the first priority. Even so, there is constantly a line at the public telephone nearest the camp -- which brings in more revenue than any other public phone in Spain. Some immigrants have a more comfortable journey, flying into Morocco and then taking a bus to the Ceuta border. This group is said to be growing, financed by immigration mafias. These mafias often trick or coerce women into working the prostitution rings found across Europe.

The Spanish government, subsidized by the EU and in conjunction with aid groups and other charities, provides food and medical attention (and even day care) to the inhabitants of Calamocarro; nearly $2 million was spent on food and medical care in 1998, and another $750,000 has gone into refurbishing the campground. Given the conditions in the camp, the bulk of the medical care must focus on avoiding epidemics; about half the arrivals suffer from some form of hepatitis, and tuberculosis, malaria, and AIDS are regularly diagnosed. Nonetheless, according to aid workers, the journey itself generally serves as a sort of pre-screening. Someone suffering from the Ebola virus, for instance, could not possibly survive the trek, and the rate of HIV infection in the camp, thought to be three percent, is well below the eight percent rate among adults in sub-Saharan Africa.

Bright Iwae, a twenty-five-year-old Nigerian from Benin City, abandoned his studies to become a mechanic in order to try his luck elsewhere. First he worked as a seaman in Abidjan, in the Ivory Coast. When he had saved $2,000, he set out for Europe. His original intention was to make his way to Tunisia and then cross into Italy, but other Africans he met persuaded him that Ceuta was a better option. It took him two and a half months to reach Ceuta; the worst segment of his journey was crossing the Algerian desert into Morocco, walking toward distant lights by night and sweltering by day. A group of eight reached Ceuta together and at a planned time one night rushed the frontier fence. All except Iwae were captured by the police. The adrenaline surge of that final segment -- the leap across the fence, the shouts and cries, the dogs and spotlights -- was such that Iwae, hidden in the cleft of a rock, collapsed and slept through the following day. That night he was awakened by the sound of drums beating out rhythms he recognized as Nigerian; he walked toward the sound until he finally arrived in Calamocarro.

"I called it the work of God -- I didn't know what to call it," Iwae says. "The place was so strange. What I expected was not what I saw -- little tents, no light, fires, people dancing. I expected good living. When we think about Europe, we think it could all be like Germany. But what I really felt was such happiness in my heart. So I joined the group, singing and giving thanks. I give thanks to Ceuta."

MELILLA lies to the east of Ceuta, near the border between Morocco and Algeria. As in Ceuta, when the number of immigrants began to grow, in the mid-1990s, nongovernmental organizations such as the Red Cross and Catholic Charities were the first to intervene. A site was obtained, more or less by default, to house the immigrants: an abandoned hospital-cum-junkyard on the road to the airport. The immigrants slept in junked cars, which they wrapped in plastic for protection from the elements. Schools were improvised for Spanish-language classes, and -- after a woman in the camp was gang-raped by fellow Nigerians -- internal security squads were organized.

In the summer of 1996 Melilla's immigrants, at the time still no more than a few hundred, resolved to call attention to the administrative and legal limbo they were in by staging a sit-in on the steps of a government office building. Negotiations with local officials began, but got nowhere. During the negotiations a group of Nigerians turned disorderly, and the police and the military entered the fray. A riot ensued, 103 immigrants were taken into police custody, and deportation edicts were issued. On the deportation plane sedatives were slipped into the deportees' drinking water; some of the accompanying police officers drank the water too, not having been warned. The sedated immigrants were dropped off in small groups in various African nations that, reportedly, had agreed to accept the deportees, regardless of their true nationality. Most were immediately jailed.

When details of the operation came to light, the Spanish government was roundly criticized by human-rights groups, and also by the police officers' union -- the officers accompanying the deported immigrants had not been immunized, and at least two contracted tropical diseases and had to be hospitalized. Spain's President, Josť Maria Aznar, answered the criticism in a blunt fashion, typical of his public speech: "There was a problem, and it has been solved" was the extent of his response. When the controversy failed to die down, the Interior Minister, Jaime Mayor Oreja, eventually conceded in the Spanish parliament that the handling of the affair was "not a model to be followed."

Just how counterproductive the operation was became clear in the following months, when the number of immigrants streaming into Melilla drastically increased. The controversy over the deportations had generated international coverage, especially in African nations, which served to inform potential immigrants of the existence of the Spanish enclaves. A year later, in late 1997, more than a thousand immigrants were living in Melilla instead of a few hundred, and the government was forced to set up a camp similar to Calamocarro.

Faced with swelling numbers of African immigrants in the enclaves, and attempting to respond to pressure from human-rights groups, the Spanish government began issuing special work and residency permits in late 1996. This was an alternative to the pretense of considering requests for political asylum, only to systematically reject them -- a pattern all over Europe in recent years, particularly after the waves of immigration and the ensuing xenophobic reprisals that rocked Germany and France in the early 1990s. Today few even bother to request political asylum, choosing to wait instead for work permits, which are good for a year and can be renewed.

And, in fact, Spain clearly needs to import a work force. Many of its rural areas are suffering from depopulation, and crops are being lost for lack of workers to harvest them. Moreover, after generations of producing large Catholic families, Spain now has the lowest birth rate in the world. Unless this trend is offset by immigration and other factors, Spain's aging population will begin decreasing within a few years, and the question will be not only who will harvest the olives and grapes but also who will contribute to the nation's tax base. The Spanish government, which considers sub-Saharan Africans less socially disruptive than Moroccans and Algerians, no doubt had this in mind when it decided to use the enclaves as a sort of waiting room in which to screen for able-bodied potential workers.

While seeking to move the immigrants out of the enclaves, Spain is also attempting to reduce the flow of arrivals by building fortified fences along the full length of the enclaves' borders. Melilla's six-mile border has been sealed by a pair of parallel fences about ten feet high, made of galvanized steel and topped with spirals of concertina wire. Roads just inside the fences have been paved, so that patrols can easily travel the length of the border. The fences are equipped with halogen spotlights, noise and movement sensors, and video cameras connected to a central control booth; the installation required ninety miles of underground cables. Air-conditioned guard towers punctuate the fences at regular intervals. The sight of a sealed border replete with armed guards provides a graphic representation of the enclaves' underlying relationship with the continent to which they belong.

Work on Melilla's fences was completed in 1998, and they have clearly been effective in reducing the number of immigrants entering the enclave: instead of ten a day, perhaps two a week now appear in Melilla, and most immigrants now come by way of the beachfront or as stowaways in vehicles from Morocco.

Unsurprisingly, as fewer sub-Saharan Africans enter Melilla, many more are entering Ceuta, where the government's new fence, which will resemble Melilla's, is still unfinished, owing to difficulties inherent in the terrain. Moreover, how effective it will be is unclear. Whereas Melilla's geography is predominantly flat, Ceuta's mountainous five-mile border is pocked with gullies and characterized by a craggy, friable terrain that makes solid construction, even of a paved road, quite difficult. By the most recent estimates the cost to complete the fence would run to some $60 million, roughly 25 percent coming from European Union funds, and the work would be finished in the middle of this year. But those estimates belong to an ongoing series, each with a later date and a higher cost.

Even if the fence is someday completed and attempts to seal Ceuta's border are someday successful, the Spanish mainland will continue to lie a mere eight miles or so from the northern tip of Morocco. If Ceuta and Melilla no longer offer points of entry, sub-Saharan immigrants intent on making their way to Europe will presumably join the thousands of Moroccans who currently venture across the Strait of Gibraltar by night in small boats -- a journey so perilous that each year dozens of cadavers wash up on the Andalusian shore. An enclave can perhaps be sealed off with fences. A continent cannot.

(The online version of this article appears in two parts. Click here to go to part one.)


George Stolz is the Madrid correspondent for ARTnews. His fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train Stories, and he has written for The New York Times, Newsday, and Travel & Leisure.

Copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; January 2000; Europe's Back Doors - 00.01 (Part Two); Volume 285, No. 1; page 26-33.