A piece of Europe in Africa

Foreign Affairs  

The Tarajal border which separates Ceuta from the rest of Morocco is one of the busiest in the European Union.

More than 20,000 people and 2,500 vehicles cross the border daily.

On the beach of Benitez, a concrete wall with migrants' graffiti.

Thousands of women cross the border, carrying enormous sacks weighing up to 70 kilograms. The portadoras (porters) or mujeres mulas (mule women) are employed by the traders of Ceuta to bring merchandise to the other side of the border.

A closed tourist kiosk at the port. The tourist season is over for Ceuta.

Ceuta city centre and the port. A statue of Plato on the Paseo de las Palmeras.

The border post of Tarajal was the scene of the arrival of huge numbers of migrants in recent months.

The passage of merchandise and people is interrupted. The Guardia Civil is in charge of the border helped by reinforcements from the national police.

The Rock of Gibraltar points its nose from the other side of the strait. A prayer is said on Benzu Street.

La mujer muerta (Dead Woman) for the Spanish, Djebel Moussa for the Moroccans, at the foot of Belyounech. The mountain is supposed to resemble a woman lying down. Only the residents of the village of Belyounech can cross at the border of Benzu in Ceuta.

Tarajal border crossing. The passage of goods and people is interrupted.

On the beach of Benitez, two Cameroonian migrants, Malun and Josué, look at the Rock of Gibraltar on the other side of the strait, 24 kilometres from Ceuta. The currents are very strong at this point and make any attempt to flee almost impossible.

Helped by reinforcements from the national police, the Guardia Civil is in charge of the border.

Ceuta city centre. The columns of Hercules face the sea, symbolising the two continents, Africa and Europe, which are far apart.

Bus #7 leaves Constitution Square and shuttles between there and the Spanish/Moroccan border. Many Moroccan workers make this commute every day.




Border guards and police are on maximum alert on the Tarajal border post between Spain and Morocco. For months, migrants have been trying to enter Ceuta, a Spanish enclave on Moroccan territory. Swiss photographer Olivier Vogelsang captured life there.

Some manage to get through, often collected by the Red Cross and sent to a provisional accommodation centre for as long as it takes the Spanish authorities to examine their situation. Others will take their chances again.

With the #7 bus from the Moroccan border, it takes just five minutes to arrive in the centre of Ceuta at Constitution Square, with its marble pedestrian zones and luxury shops. The contrast with neighbouring Morocco is striking. At the port, a family of Syrian refugees take photos of each other in front of the statue of the columns of Hercules. Others, like this small group of Algerians, watch the ferries sail away in the direction of Algeciras on the Spanish side and hope to make the journey soon themselves. Josué from Cameroon keeps an eye on the cars in the port car park to earn a few cents.

The tourists arrive by ferry, paying barely any attention to the migrants or the security barrier constructed by Spain in 2001. Eight kilometres long and six metres high, it encloses parallel fences crowned with barbed wire and backed up with a network of underground cables linked to electronic movement and noise sensors. This wall cost CHF37 million, paid for partly by the European Union.

The enclave of Ceuta is a trading hot spot. Every day, thousands of women cross the border carrying large bags weighing up to 70 kilograms. The portadoras (porters) or mujeres mulas (mule women) are employed by the traders of Ceuta to transport basic goods, which will then be sold in the souks of Fnideq in Morocco. Everything is carried: shoes, clothes, detergents, etc.

The border guards close their eyes to this traffic, which alleviates the poverty of northern Morocco a little and boosts business in Ceuta. The enclave needs it badly. It has no agriculture, no industry and its port is in decline against the competition of Gibraltar and Tangier.

(Images and text by Olivier Vogelsang, 2013)

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