Spanish authorities have begun removing razor wire, known as concertina wire, from border fences along Spain's frontier with Morocco. The Socialist government ordered their removal after migrants who tried to jump the fences to enter Europe illegally suffered injuries after coming into contact with the wire.
Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska justified the removal by saying that Morocco had recently installed concertina wire on fences on its side of the border, and that therefore it was no longer necessary on the Spanish side.
Critics say that the razor wire functions as a significant deterrent to illegal immigration and that by removing it, the Spanish government not only risks unleashing new waves of mass migration from Africa, but also gives effective control of the Spanish border to Morocco, with which Spain has a tense relationship. Morocco frequently dumps large numbers of illegal migrants along the Spanish border to extract concessions from the Spanish government on unrelated issues.
The border fences in question involve those at Spain's North African exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla — magnets for Africans seeking a better life in Europe.
At Ceuta, two parallel fences that are six meters (20 feet) high and topped with concertina wire run eight kilometers (five miles) along the border with Morocco. At Melilla, twin fences that are four meters (13 feet) high run 12 kilometers (eight miles) along the border. The fences at Ceuta and Melilla are fortified with anti-climb mesh, video cameras, noise and motion sensors, spotlights and surveillance posts.
Each year, thousands of migrants — sometimes hundreds at a time — try to scale the fences at Ceuta and Melilla, where they are often successful. Once inside Spanish territory, illegal migrants are in the European Union, where magnanimous human rights laws virtually guarantee that they will never be deported back to their countries of origin.
Migrants who successfully scale the fences at Ceuta and Melilla are normally transferred to processing facilities in mainland Spain. Once there, many migrants continue on to wealthier countries in northern Europe, where social welfare benefits are more generous than in Spain. Only 30% of the migrants who enter Ceuta remain in Spain, according to Clemen Núñez, a director of the Red Cross in Ceuta. The rest normally move on to Britain, France and Germany. The border issue at Ceuta and Melilla is therefore one that affects all of Europe.
Migrants are increasingly using the tactic of mass attacks against the border fences in an effort to overwhelm the border police. During the past 18 months, thousands of migrants equipped with gloves, spike shoes and makeshift hooks have attempted to scale the fences at Ceuta and Melilla, often using extreme violence against the police. Notable recent incidents include:
- July 26, 2018. At least 800 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa tried to scalethe fence at Ceuta. A total of 602 managed to enter Spanish territory. The migrants used unprecedented violence against Spanish law enforcement. Eleven police officers were injured when migrants attacked them with quicklime, homemade flamethrowers, sticks and sharp objects, as well as with urine and excrement.
- August 22, 2018. A total of 119 migrants successfully scaled the fence at Ceuta, after taking advantage of a diminished police presence on the Moroccan side of the border during a Muslim holiday.
- October 2018. More than 300 migrants tried to scale the fence at Melilla; 200 migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, successfully entered Spanish territory.
- May 12, 2019. More than 100 migrants tried to scale the fence at Melilla; 52 migrants, mostly from Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Mali, successfully entered Spanish territory.
- August 30, 2019. More than 400 migrants tried to scale the fence at Ceuta; 155 migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, successfully entered Spanish territory.
- September 19, 2019. At least 60 migrants tried to scale the fence at Melilla; 26 migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, managed to enter Spanish territory.
- November 18, 2019. A people smuggler transporting 52 migrants — 34 men, 16 women and two children — reached Spanish territory after driving his vanat full speed through the border gate at Ceuta. The driver, a 38-year-old Moroccan with French residency, was arrested more than a kilometer inside Spanish territory. The migrants, who claimed to be from Congo, Guinea and the Ivory Coast, were taken to a migrant processing facility in Ceuta.
Hundreds of migrants have suffered cuts and lacerations from the concertina wire, according to the Spanish Red Cross, prompting calls for the razor wire to be removed.
On June 14, 2018, Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska vowed to do "everything possible" to remove the "anti-migrant" razor wire fences. During an interview with the Spanish radio station Onda Cero, he said that he had commissioned a report into finding the "least bloody possible means" of preserving border security. "I'm going to do everything possible to see that these razor wire fences at Ceuta and Melilla are removed," he said. "It is one of my main priorities."
On February 23, 2019, Grande-Marlaska, during a campaign stop while on a visit to Ceuta, repeated his pledge to remove the concertina wire. At the same time, he visited a new barbed-wire fence on the Moroccan side of the border. The fence, topped with concertina wire, was paid for by a €140 million ($155 million) grant from the European Union.
On August 26, 2019, Grande-Marlaska, during an interview with Telecinco television, again said that he was determined to eliminate the "bloody means" of border control: "We said that we were going to generate 21st century borders, safer borders, where the concept of security and humanity are not in any way dissociated."
On December 3, 2019, the government began work on a €32 million ($35 million) plan to remove the concertina wires from the fences that separate Ceuta from Morocco. Ironically, the razor wires were first installed by the government of Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in 2005 — at a cost of €28 million ($30 million).
The removal is in line with the current Socialist government's pro-immigration stance. In June 2018, for instance, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez welcomed 630 migrants from the Aquarius migrant ship who were rescued off the coast of Libya. Spain accepted the migrants after the Aquarius was refused entry by Italy and Malta. Italy's then interior minister, Matteo Salvini, accused Spain of "encouraging out-of-control immigration."
A few weeks later, the Spanish government announced that it would end so-called express deportations — the practice of immediately deporting migrants the moment they reach the Spanish border — after the European Court of Justice ruled that summary deportations were a violation of EU law.
In October 2017, the Strasbourg-based court ruled that Spain must pay €10,000 to two African migrants who were summarily deported after they scaled the fence at Melilla in August 2014. The EU court said that Spanish border police failed to verify the identity of the migrants, and failed to provide them with access to lawyers, translators or medical personnel. Spain's previous center-right government appealed the ruling, but the new Socialist government said that it would review that appeal and immediately end the practice of express deportations.
The government has justified the removal of the concertina wires on the grounds of human rights. Government spokeswoman Isabel Celaá said that "this government wants to remove the concertinas without losing any security." She added that "border control must be linked to solidarity and respect for human dignity." Celaá insisted that "you can have border security without hurting people."
Police and border patrols agents, however, have said that without concertina wires, the border will become even more vulnerable to mass incursions than it already is. They added that whenever there are mass attacks against the fences, police are usually outnumbered by the migrants seeking to enter Spain illegally.
The Spanish newspaper ABC reported that police, in private conversations, said that they were worried that the Socialist government in Madrid was prioritizing the wellbeing of migrants over the safety of law enforcement officers. They noted that while eleven officers were injured in the mass attack against the fence in Ceuta on August 30, when migrants attacked police with acid and mace, not a single one of the 155 migrants who managed to reach Spanish territory have been deported.
Spanish border police told ABC that the main function of the concertina wires is not aggressive, but deterrent:
"The concertinas prevent many people from thinking about jumping the fence and, in the event that someone tries or there is a mass jump, they also allow agents to gain some time since they slow down the progress of migrants."
The Senate spokesman of the center-right Popular Party, Ignacio Cosidó, warnedthat removing the concertina wires would be "a great irresponsibility" and that, in his opinion, this type of "gesture" would send the message that Spain now has an "open door" migration policy.
Santiago Abascal, leader of the Spanish conservative party Vox, the third-largest party in Spain, said that the Socialist government's plan was part of a broader effort to undermine national sovereignty in favor of globalist mass migration. He called for replacing the fences with concrete walls to better secure the border:
"The borders in Ceuta and Melilla are permanently violated by avalanches of immigrants. We are going to propose a reform of the immigration law to be able to expel an immigrant immediately if their documentation is not in order. We believe that the best protection is a concrete wall that is high enough for security forces to control the border."
Taking a page out of U.S. President Donald J. Trump's playbook, Abascal said that new wall should be paid for by Morocco: "It is Morocco which launches waves of clandestine immigrants to blackmail the European Union. Maybe they should pay for it."
On September 12, Vox Secretary General Javier Ortega Smith and Vox Parliamentary Spokesman Iván Espinosa de los Monteros presented a plan in the Spanish Congress to replace the "ineffective fences and concertinas" with a concrete wall that, due to its "thickness, strength and height" would make the borders at "Ceuta and Melilla borders impenetrable and impassable." They said that the wall should be paid for by Spain with "economic collaboration" from the European Union.
Ortega Smith said that proposal to build a wall "is not a propaganda slogan" but a necessity to curb illegal immigration. He explained that the current fences are ineffective because migrants can scale them and, from on top, "throw stones, acids and quicklime" on the border police below. Ortega Smith said that the walls would eliminate the need for concertina wire, an excuse that the Spanish left was using to profess outrage about inhumane treatment: "We do not want migrants to be cut, rather, we do not want them to scale the fence in the first place."
Vox parliamentary spokesman Iván Espinosa de los Monteros blamed the Socialist government for encouraging mass migration. "We are not against immigration," he said during an interview with Spanish public television. "We are not even against the illegal immigrant. It is not their fault that an irresponsible government has called them to come here illegally."