Postcard from... Melilla, Spain


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The Independent Online


It is mid morning in Melilla, and residents are enjoying their coffee and churros in a small café in the city centre. Nobody is paying attention to a muted television set in the corner, which is running a report about the spat between Madrid and London over Gibraltar.

But in many ways Melilla is exactly the same as that lump of British rock on the southern coast of Spain – even though local residents don’t like to think so.

Melilla is a 20-kilometre square patch of Spanish territory surrounded by Morocco on the North African coast. A similar Spanish enclave, Ceuta, sits a few hundred kilometres to the west. The Spanish government argues the situation is different from Gibraltar because Melilla and Ceuta existed as part of Spain long before the birth of the modern Moroccan state. 

Although Morocco does claim both territories as their own, tensions over ownership of Melilla and Ceuta do not flare up too often. It is a 12km fence separating Africa and Europe which causes more problems. Every month dozens of migrants risk their lives and try to storm the heavily-guarded barrier in Melilla to get into the European Union. But a tourist could probably visit for a short time and never know about the human drama unfolding a few miles away. Although tourist leaflets promote Melilla as a melting pot of cultures, it is – like Gibraltar – wedded to the traditions of its parent country. And like the Gibraltar residents enjoying fish and chips on the Mediterranean coast, it is plates of tapas, not tagine.