Legal Contraband and Crossing the Border

Prior to arriving to Nador, I watched two documentaries about Melilla.

One described the experience of Black Africans living in the forest of Gurugu in Nador. Some live there for two to five years, waiting for their opportunity to climb and cross the multiple fences that line the border. All they need to do is place one foot inside Melilla to get placed inside a holding center and then moved elsewhere in Europe for a minimum of six months until all the paperwork is processed; for them, this is their entry to Europe. Crossing the fence is extremely dangerous though and if they don’t get injured by the fence, they are injured by the Moroccan police, who are paid by Spain to guard the border and have a reputation for beating immigrants that are caught and for burning their camps.

The other one I saw showed women making trips back forth through the Melilla-Nador border carrying heavy bags of used clothing and food into Morocco. In the film, the women stuffed goods under their clothing and also carried them on their back, which confused me, since it wasn’t clear whether these trips were legal or illegal.

Well, I got it all cleared up thanks to Abdel.

IMG_20150909_125320414 IMG_20150909_130957370
On the second day he took me to meet some of his friends who were standing outside of a large, but rather empty, store. A couple of minutes after sitting outside on large bulks of peppercorn, a small white car arrived and parked in front of the store. Right away, the men in the store got up and began pulling the car apart — the entire car was packed with food! Hundreds of boxes of tuna, cases of milk, chocolate bars, Red Bulls, and large black bags full of lentils and raisin were pulled out of every crevice of the tiny car, including under the hood surrounding the motor.
As it turns out, it’s legal on the Spanish side for Moroccans to purchase these goods because all the taxes are included in the price of the items. Meanwhile, bringing the goods into Morocco is not legal because it hurts Morocco’s economy. But Moroccan police will turn a blind eye for a small price and let these men cross the border with their loaded cars. These men will make about two trips every morning and unload the cars at the store/warehouse where I was with Abdel. From here, the goods are distributed to other stores in bulk or sold individually to locals.
IMG_20150909_130914940Eventually another large van arrived and I was amazed the entire time, asking a thousands of questions. For a second, I felt like a true anthropologist who went to the place where her research question could be answered and through locals, was able to answer it.
The following day, I was also able to learn about the border and see the fence upfront by crossing it. I learned through Abdel that the only Moroccans who can go into Melilla without a visa are citizens/residents of Nador. They can go in for a day but must return at night time unless they want to face harassment from the police in Melilla. So Abdel, his friend, and myself took a taxi to Nador then got on a green bus and about an hour later, we reached the border. The Moroccan guards were a little surprised by my Mexican passport then simply gave me a customs form to fill out and stamped my passport.

After this checkpoint, we reached the Spanish post. Here, Abdel and his friend were directed to a side gate and here we ran into a problem.

The guard took a glance at their passport and simply shook his head. He said it was too late for them to be allowed in. At this point I was really disappointed since it was only 8pm and we had traveled for an hour to get there. The guard saw my passport and said I could pass through the first Spanish post, so Abdel walked over and tried his luck once more, this time pointing to me and my passport. I began talking to the Spanish guards, telling them that we only planned to walk for a bit and intended to come back.  One of the guards asked me if Abdel was my partner and on a whim I said yes, and quickly assured him again that we would come back that night because we lived in Nador.

That did it and he let us through.

I was quite shocked about the whole situation, especially because my Mexican passport had never before granted me any visible privilege in Europe (I’ve actually experienced some unfortunate “random” searches and have struggled to pass though customs in a couple of European countries). I was very distracted, still thinking about happened that I didn’t realize that Abdel’s friend had not passed through with us until Abdel pointed it out to me. I turned around and one of the guards asked me if the guy was with me too. After I told him yes, he let him through and in Spanish asked me “Why are you’re bringing in Moroccans?” before turning around.

It’s clear that his question was more of a comment, made to inform me of a xenophobic attitude he thought I was not clear about. The whole experience was really unfortunate and although we made it inside Melilla, I know Abdel was hurt by it all. “Sometimes I feel this is garbage” he said, swinging his green passport up for me to see. I put my own green passport inside my bag and found I couldn’t say anything at all. So we just walked until eventually the night and the warm breeze from the water blurred the sour memory away.


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