Please activate JavaScript!
Please install Adobe Flash Player, click here for download


38 D+C Vol.42.2015:2 A café in the Medina, the historical centre of Tangier, is a popular meeting place for transnational travellers. It serves Moroccan tea with mint and lots of sugar. Most of the people who come here are mi- grants from West Africa. The café is where Bouba* spends his days. For two years, the tall Senegalese man with short dreadlocks and an ear stud has been living in Tangier. He is 40 years old and used to be a professional basketball player. He even played in Morocco and Tunisia for a while. He dropped out of school to pursue his sports career. Now, he is too old to get a formal education and has nothing to fall back on. Unlike his friends in Senegal, he has neither wife nor children. “They have families and are happy,” he says, “they have no reason to migrate.” Bouba wants to go to Europe. Like many sub-Saharan migrants, he has set his heart on a bordeaux-coloured European passport, which, in his eyes, is the certificate of free- dom and infinite opportunity. He would like to head north, preferably to Denmark, Swe- den or Norway. He has been told that the sun rises in Scandinavia at three in the morning, and his dream is to see that hap- pen. He has never met anyone from the countries concerned and hopes that people there are particularly friendly. He cannot say that of the citizens of other European na- tions he has met. Because of its location, Tangier has a long tradition of being a gateway between Europe and Africa. On clear days, one sees the mountains on the Spanish mainland from the town’s sloping streets. They seem within reach. At the narrowest point, the Straits of Gibraltar that separate Morocco from Europe are only around 14 kilometres wide. Every day, thousands of tourists make the crossing from Spain on day trips to Af­ rica. The fastest ferry takes 35 minutes; Eu- ropeans can get a ticket for € 21. Not everyone is granted easy entry into the EU however, so migrants like Bouba take the risk of travelling there in small boats at night. Bouba has tried to get to Spain three times. “It is easy for you,” he says, ”but for us Africans it is like a game; you have to keep trying.” Ridiculously short distance Considering the thousands of kilometres that many migrants travel to get to Tangier, the distance left to cross between the two continents seems ridiculously short. How- ever, the boat ride across the sea often proves the greatest challenge of the entire journey. Many transit migrants like Bouba are stuck in Morocco for years. The night-time crossings are organised by people smugglers and are very expen- sive. A place on board will cost from € 200 to more than € 1,000. Those who cannot afford such prices try to cross the Straights by pad- dling rubber dinghies, but they have to pay people smugglers too. They are taken to the coast at night – often near Ceuta, the Span- ish enclave in Africa – and the dinghy is swiftly inflated and pushed into the water in the dark. Many migrants cannot swim. The crossing is tough and tiring. The first challenge is to reach international wa- ters between the two sovereign territories. “That is where we take a short rest,” Bouba says, “after having covered more than half the distance. But it is dark and we must not lose our sense of direction. A small boat can fast be swept out into the Atlan- tic by the strong current.” Neither Africa nor Spain can be seen from the interna- tional waters at night. Many migrants have mobile phones. They call a friend as soon as they make it safely to the other side. Far too many, how- ever, never ring a friend. Bouba says that a rubber boat with 15 African migrants went out to sea recently and was never heard of again. In the past 20 years, more than 23,000 people are estimated to have died on the EU’s external borders. In 2011, the EU granted legal entry to some 1.7 million migrants from countries outside Europe. A far greater number at- tempted to get in, however, so the EU border control agency Frontex registered around 141,000 illegal border crossings. What drives migrants like Bouba to cross the border illegally? They say they hope to find decent jobs with good pay. And they mention grim political, legal and eco- nomic realities back home. Migrants often get “help” from interme- diaries, people smugglers and all kinds of “travel organisers”, among whom are border officials and members of the armed forces. All helpers profit from the lucrative business of facilitating illegal entry to the EU. The Mi- gration Policy Institute (MPI), an independ- ent think tank, warns that the criminal in- dustry of people smuggling is growing at an alarming rate. Recent reports of crewless boats drifting in the Mediterranean reaffirm such assessment. Bouba’s attempts to cross the Straights have all ended in failure so far. He does not Migration On the border By Floreana Miesen Morocco is one big waiting room for people from Guinea, Liberia, Senegal, Cameroon and other countries. They all hope to make it to what they feel is their “promised land” in Europe. In Tangier, our author met a young Senegalese man who already made several unsuccessful attempts to travel to the EU by boat. Tangier Morocco