Study visit in Ceuta

Between continents, cultures and religions


A group of young adults is gathered around a statute on the boulevard of Ceuta, listening to a story of the antique hero Hercules, who shaped the strait of Gibraltar with his superhuman power, dividing Europa and Africa. For Hercules, Ceuta marked the end of the world. Today Ceuta marks part of the external frontier of the European Union as a Spanish town in Northern Africa, opposite to British Gibraltar, backed by the Moroccan mountains and embraced by 2 seas, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.

Hercules statue in Ceuta

The group of 15 volunteers and youth workers from 10 countries took a long way to Ceuta, crossing troubled waters to share their views of the challenges of active civil society and learn together from the situation of young people and society in Ceuta. They were invited by a Spanish youth initiative ‘Almatahiar’ in cooperation with an international youth network “european play work association”.

Yes, indeed, there is a lot to learn from Ceuta, especially about its people between continents, cultures, religions and languages. Four religions have been living together in this small town peacefully for centuries. Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Hindu festivals are public holidays in Ceuta. Spanish, Arabic amongst other languages can be heard in the streets of the beautiful town.

Despite many UN backed claims and negotiations, before the United Nations Decolonization committee, the port town is still in Spanish hands. It is used as a harbour, but 2/3s of the territory is reserved exclusively for military purposes.

But the geographical, economical and political situation of Ceuta is challenging, being surrounded by a land border, dividing some of the most unequal living conditions of the world.

Morocco did not accept the Spanish possession of Ceuta and was therefore reluctant to support the Spanish frontier policy in its efforts to stop migration. Under the financial pressure of the EU, the Moroccan government has changed its policy, sharing now the brutal defence of the border with Spain, building a double fence, with barbed wire and deporting Sub-Sahara African migrants back to South-Morocco, before they can reach the EU.

In 2018 Spain was officially criticized by the Council of Europe’s Special Representative on Migration and Refugees, for its migration policy and violation of the human rights at the border.

The neighbourhood between Morocco and Spanish Ceuta is characterized by inequalities: Spanish inhabitants can easily enter Morocco without visa. Most Moroccans from border towns receive a visa only for the daytime visits with a huge economical benefit for Ceuta. Every day hundreds of people, the majority of them women, come from the Moroccan town Fnideq, many of them by foot with heavy bags, offering their products on the market or selling and buying other wares for trade in Morocco. Every day more than 50 sex workers from Morocco arrive in Ceuta to offer their services during the day, as they have to leave the town again in the evening. If the women decide to stay in Ceuta, they will live illegally, are socially excluded without any citizens’ rights and no access to continental Spain.

Two participants of the seminar, Wuarda and Ibrahim, were born in Ceuta. Ibrahim’s parents left the town with him, when he was just 18 days old and moved to Madrid, where he grew up. Wuarda moved to Málaga with her mother, when she was 8 years old. During childhood they both spent their holidays with their grandparents in Ceuta, getting to know its streets, people and stories, mainly around ‘El Principe’, one of the Ceuta’s biggest ‘barrios’ – neighbourhood, a world of its own.

As the whole of Ceuta, for centuries also ‘El Principe’ was known as a multi-religious inter-cultural ‘barrio’ with churches and mosques, a Christian community living next door to Muslim inhabitants. Now the Christian families prefer other residential areas with modern houses and more and more migrants from Morocco move to ‘El Principe’, which enforces the separation within the town. The unemployment rate in Ceuta is high, in ‘El Principe’ there are even less perspectives for young people, except joining a Spanish military force or illegal structures, or – as it happened in the past 10 years – accepting a call by ISIS to become an Islamic fighter, their families being promised a monthly income of thousand Euros in case of their death. The stigmatization of their ‘barrio’ has limited the chances of the young people even further – ‘El Principe’ became known to be the most dangerous ‘barrio’ in Spain, hyped by a ‘Telenovela’ -TV soap series.

It was our colleague Wuarda with her youth initiative “Almatahiar”, who invited the seminar to come to Ceuta and to ‘El Principe’, opening doors to different local initiatives and to family homes. Her strong wish was to highlight the situation of marginalized women and unaccompanied refugee minors in Ceuta and make their stories audible and visible. Besides the learning experiences for the participants, she hopes that the seminar in Ceuta helps to encourage new links and projects between young people in ‘El Principe’ and in other European and African communities – to spread hope and open new perspectives for a future in dignity. She believes in ‘El Principe’s’ potentials and strengths: strong and supporting communities, hospitality, a tradition of intercultural understanding and tolerance, direct communication between people and families.

Wuarda has a vision to widen her initiative to Morocco together with Ibrahim and Laila, a participant from Madrid, with family roots in Moroccan Tangier. Together they intend to knot links and networks and enable intercultural encounters between young people from Europe and Africa. All three confirm, their commitment as Civil Society will not be stopped at the borders, even if the borders try to slow them down. Ceuta, at one of the cross roads, where Europe has decided to combat migration with militarization, producing marginalization, inspired these three young activists to choose their commitment for Human Rights.


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