Fleeing the war in Sudan to look at death at the fence of Melilla

Mohamed hasn’t slept since last Friday. He is one of the 133 people who managed to jump the Melilla fence. He is in the Temporary Stay Center for Foreigners, CETI, but he cannot get rid of his anguish. She clings to the slit that does not allow her full face to be glimpsed, she needs to recount what she experienced. Still in quarantine due to coronavirus as dictated by the rules of the Spanish authorities for newcomers. They cannot leave the center nor can they meet with the others.

This 20 year old fled three years ago from sudan and after passing through Chad, Libya, Niger, Algeria and Morocco has managed to reach European soil. But he was not alone, “he had friends who tried to cross the border last Friday” and were left behind. The initial group was made up of some 2,000 people who advanced towards the border fence before a large device from the Moroccan gendarmerie. At least 23 of these young people have lost their lives on the Moroccan side of the border, although NGOs estimate that they are 37 deceased. Dozens of them have injuries of varying severity and there are also wounded among the agents of the Spanish Civil Guard, there is talk of more than 49.

Mohamed was one of the people who managed to cross the Melilla fence last Friday. Jairo Vargas

Muhammad was wearing eleven months in Casablanca and this has been his eighth attempt to cross the fence. “We don’t come just because, we come because there is no alternative,” he says angrily. The other companions approach him and nod. They are all from Sudan. What he regrets is not having news of who died, who is injured and who is detained. He fears the worst, “it was very horrible,” he explains, waving his hands.

The Nador Prosecutor’s Office (Morocco) has charged crimes against 32 people arrested during the tragic jump over the fence. He accuses them of human trafficking and the kidnapping of a Moroccan agent to use him as a hostage, also of setting fire, of the use of physical and verbal violence. “We have arrived and we are isolated and incommunicado. We don’t know who died and who didn’t. We had many friends and we don’t know who is injured, alive or dead”, he adds desperately.

“There are no mafias nor do we have money to pay them”

He left Sudan as a minor. He was 17 years old. “I haven’t been able to contact my family yet. I don’t know how they are and they don’t know how I am,” he tells us. And in this time, life as a migrant has not been easy at all. It has not been in any of the transit countries, not in Morocco. In the cities they slept on the streets and lived on alms. “There was no work and for this reason we spent many days in the mountains.” He refers to Mount Gurugú, a few kilometers from the autonomous city, where he had been living for eleven days. “In the mountains we had shade, we looked for water and together we got some food,” he argues.

“We were a large group of people in the mountains and the Moroccan police attacked us,” he says, adding that they had been cornered for days, while the merchants were prohibited from selling them food. Which precipitated the decision to try a new jump. We asked him who organized it and his answer is clear. “There are no mafias nor do we have money to pay them, we organize ourselves”, reply. During the jump, the Moroccan police he confronted them with tear gas, rubber band guns and batons: “Many friends fell to the ground and began to pass out. I remember the overwhelming image once I managed to jump to this side. There was a bloodbath, many who seemed dead and many injured,” he adds. Near him appears Nasriddine in a wheelchair. A gas grenade injured his feet.

This Tuesday, Rabat authorities have released new images of the tragedy. According to the version of the gendarmerie, one day before the jump, its agents had dismantled the Gurugú camps and the young people had responded with stones, sticks and burned part of the forest. The police themselves recorded these images to demonstrate their violence.

Mohamed acknowledges that the concern has not stopped in Melilla, which was very afraid of the Spanish authorities expelling him. “I saw with my eyes how they returned people,” he says, adding that his intention is to ask for asylum. He comes from a country in conflict. “We are people and we feel. We have a heart that feels anger at what has happened. We are victims of wars in our countries, but also abroad”, he cries.

The General Prosecutor of the Spanish State has opened an investigation into the deaths of at least 23 people. The decision comes after the United Nations Committee for the Protection of Migrant Workers and their Families has urged the governments of Spain and Morocco to “immediately” open an “exhaustive, independent and transparent” investigation into the jump to the fence of Melilla to clarify whether they lost their lives “by falling from the fence, in the stampede or as a result of some action by the border agents”.

What’s on the other side isn’t worth it

Maauia, aged 19 in January 2020, decided share with his mother his plans to go to another country to seek a better future. Out of Sudan, away from war and famine. “She told me ‘son, I can only wish you the best,'” he says excited. He feels relieved because he managed to cross the fence on March 3 when some 700 people tried to enter Spain. He was about to enter university, but life had become “a matter of luck, there were days that were fine and others that everything was blown up,” he says.

Views of the Melilla fence. Jairo Vargas

He has the patience to sit at the doors of the Temporary Stay Center for Immigrants in Melilla. With the fence in the background that he looks over and over again out of the corner of his eye to explain how dangerous it was to cross it. From his native country he went to Chad where he tried to work in the search for gold and when he got it, after a year, he sold 10 grams and continued his journey. He arrived in Libya, but was left standing in the south and the stories he received from the north were desperate. “I knew it was dangerous to advance through Libya. I received stories from my friends with kidnappings, slavery and that the exits were very expensive “, he assures. So he decided to head for Niger, cross the Sahara desert avoiding the Algerian authorities and reach Oran. In the second largest city in Algeria he got a job in construction and stayed there for a few months. “Always in hiding, always on the run from the authorities, since he was an illegal person.”

He then crossed the border with Morocco. “I tried it two nights and until the third night I didn’t get it,” he recounts. To cross from Algeria to Morocco you have to do it on foot and through the woods. Then in Morocco he continued through the mountains until he found the opportunity to cross. Melilla lives with his back to a fence of life and death. Those on the Spanish side would cross again because, they say, what is on the other side is not worth it.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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