Can Europe Make It?

In the Spanish exclave of Ceuta, the bloody realities of 'Fortress Europe' become apparent

On February 6th, fifteen migrants died while trying to enter the Spanish exclave of Ceuta in North Africa. The Spanish border guards, with their notorious and lethal "push-back" tactics, are largely to blame. Read more from our You Tell Us bloggers.

Lotta Tenhunen Adrià Rodriguez
17 February 2014

On February 6, 2014, in the Spanish colony of Ceuta in North Africa, dozens of migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa tried to cross the border by swimming. Some newspapers announced that 9–13 of them drowned. The next day a video of a group of people swimming to the shore is published and we see them reaching the coast. Spanish police push them back, acting against the international conventions that guarantee the right to asylum.

On Monday 10 it emerges that the Spanish police fired rubber bullets and teargas at the swimming migrants struggling against the waves. Helena Meleno from the NGO Caminando Fronteras publishes pictures of the impact of the rubber bullets on the heads of the surviving migrants. The police manipulate the video of the CCTV cameras to erase any evidence of their involvement in the deaths. 

One of the Ceuta migrants, who had been shot with a rubber bullet by a Spanish border guard. Photo taken by Helena Meleno, and used with her permission.

Here the notoriety of the EU's border policies are revealed to their full extent. When the push-back policies – intended to invisibilise migration by moving the EU borders further into the surrounding regions – fail, they resort to lying, hiding the evidence, and with that making it clear that for the authorities the lives of these people were never an issue. We believe there was never any doubt for the border police, not in this specific case as in so many others, that had they crossed the line between constant violent abuse and passed on to murder, there would still be powerful people supporting them.

After all, the EU outsourced the management of the frontiers for years to African and Middle-Eastern dictators. The Arab spring swept these allies away and now the elite governing Europe is showing, once more - let us not forget the 5 migrants shot with live ammunition in 2005 while PSOE was governing - that they are equally capable of murdering with steady hands. Given this intrinsically global dimension of the struggle for the abolition of the frontiers, it cannot be won without cooperation between both the southern and the northern shores of the Mediterranean.

On Tuesday morning WhatsApps, calls and Twitter start to circulate the call to demonstrate all around the country on Wednesday afternoon, the day before the appearance of the Ministry of Justice in the Spanish parliament. By the afternoon it is translated into French and Arabic.

On Wednesday we pour into plazas in fifteen Spanish cities, keeping silence for those dead, shouting against the murders.

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A Barcelona demonstration against the killings of migrants at Ceuta. Photo by author.

Day by day more bodies are found in Ceuta. The death toll climbs to 15, the survivors say there are even more.

On Thursday 13, the Minister of Interior makes a speech and laments the deaths. But neither this case nor worldwide military border policies in general are unaccountable tragedies.They fall, rather, into the category of "not isolated or sporadic events, but part either of a government policy or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority". That is how the crimes against humanity are defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

And it makes the sorrow deeper, the anger more fiery. To know that there are Ceutas on every continent, designed to put the interest of the few beyond the interest of the many. Many opaque Ceutas full of crimes and horror that go unnoticed, producing fear and sowing death. The Berlin Wall fell just to open up a savage proliferation of Lampedusas and Ceutas all around Europe.


We want an independent investigation on the deaths on February 6, as well as all the previous, buried without justice. The resignation of the Spanish Minister of Interior and the legal prosecution of him and other persons involved in these killings is a minimum in any democracy. And as to what concerns Europe, it's a struggle for an open citizenship and universal rights for all who are to come here.

The demilitarisation and abolition of all frontiers. The end of all Ceutas.

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