Sometimes there is a photograph that captures in one image an essential truth.
Jose Palazon is a resident of the tiny Spanish enclave of Melilla, a nick in the Mediterranean coastline of Morocco. The enclave is surrounded by a tall fence, built and guarded with the help of European Union money to try to prevent African migrants from reaching Spanish territory. Palazon runs an organization called Prodein, which attempts to help immigrants who enter the enclave illegally. On Wednesday this week he took the photo above as more than 200 migrants attempted to cross the massive border fence.
In the photo, the migrants are attempting to escape into the Club Campo de Golf de Melilla, a public golf course where games can cost up to £20. The per capita income of Melilla is 15 times more than that of the surrounding areas of Morocco and astronomically higher than many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Thousands of African immigrants living illegally in Morocco try to enter Spain’s enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta each year, hoping to reach Europe.
Jonathan Jones writing in today’s Guardian made this analysis of Palazon’s photograph:
The obscenity of this photograph lies in the willed indifference of the golfers. They play as if they could not see the desperate danglers so close to their pampered game. They are clad in expensive, well-laundered white clothes and equipped with caddies of top-notch gear. The creases and cleanness of their apparel are obvious even at a distance and contrast glaringly with the shabby garb of the migrants. The players shine in the African sun, their unwilling audience wears clothes that grimly repel it.[…]
The enclosed garden they inhabit is an artificial paradise that luridly triumphs over nature. Out there, in that other world, nature itself looks poor and unforgiving. Wild grasses and raw earth on a sparse hillside. In here, in the paradise of the wealthy and the lucky, the grass is so synthetically fed, so monstrously cosseted that it glows with an unreal almost fluorescent lime beauty. It is like a Beverly Hills lawn transplanted to the moon. […]
It is a metaphor not just of Spain’s enclave in north Africa as an uneasy meeting place of two worlds, but of the rich and poor parts of humanity. The golf course is Europe itself, shutting out a common humanity clamouring for better lives. Your poor, your tired, your huddled masses? Wrong continent.
Spain’s Interior Ministry said 2,000 migrants have made it across Melilla’s border fence in roughly 60 attempts so far this year. Those that make it head for the city’s temporary migrant accommodation centre. They are eventually repatriated or let go. There are more dramatic photos of the Melilla fence on the International Business Times website (!?) here.
Seumus Milne commented in the Guardian earlier this month:
Given the escalating scale of global inequality, the only surprise is that migration pressures are not greater still. In the late 19th century average income in the richest countries was around five times that of the poorest. By the early years of this century, it was more than 18 times higher – in the US it is now around 25 times that of the poorest.
The champions of capitalist globalisation insisted that the power of global markets would change all that. But, if you strip out China – which has delivered the fastest growth and poverty reduction in history, albeit at high environmental and social cost, by ignoring the neoliberal Washington consensus – poverty and inequality has continued to grow between as well as within countries.
As the catechism of ‘free market’ deregulation has been imposed across the world under “free trade” and “partnership” agreements and the destructive discipline of the IMF, World Bank and WTO, capital and resources have been sucked out of the developing world and tens of millions of people have been driven into urban poverty by corporate land grabs.
That is why the number living on less than $2 a day in sub-Saharan Africa has doubled since 1981 under the sway of rich world globalisation. Africa’s boom has been in resource exploitation, not in most people’s living standards. So it is hardly surprising that migration from the global south to high and middle-income countries has more or less tripled over the past half century.
Add the impact of multiple wars over the past two decades, sponsored or fuelled by rich world countries – from Iraq and Afghanistan to Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Mali and Libya – and the pressures on Europe’s borders and off its coasts are not hard to understand.
The Melilla fence
The Immigrants by Margaret Atwood
They are allowed to inherit
the sidewalks involved as palmlines, bricks
exhausted and soft, the deep
lawnsmells, orchards whorled
to the land’s contours, the inflected weather
only to be told they are too poor
to keep it up, or someone
has noticed and wants to kill them; or the towns
pass laws which declare them obsolete.
I see them coming
up from the hold smelling of vomit,
infested, emaciated, their skins grey
with travel; as they step on shore
the old countries recede, become
perfect, thumbnail castles preserved
like gallstones in a glass bottle, the
towns dwindle upon the hillsides
in a light, paperweight-clear.
They carry their carpetbags and trunks
with clothes, dishes, the family pictures;
they think they will make an order
like the old one, sow miniature orchards,
carve children and flocks out of wood
but always they are too poor, the sky
its flat, the green fruit shrivels
in the prairies sun, wood is for burning;
and if they go back, they towns
in time have crumpled, their tongues
stumble among awkward teeth, their ears
are filled the sound of breaking glass.
I wish I could forget them
and so forget myself:
my mind is a wide pink map
across which move year after year
arrows and dotted lines, further and further,
people in railway cars
their heads stuck out of the windows
at the stations. drinking milk of singing,
their features hidden with beards or shawls
day and night riding across an ocean of unknown
Land to an unknown land.
A Melilla fence ends in the Mediterranean at the border between Morocco and the Spanish enclave
- Ten myths about migration: writers from the Guardian, Le Monde, El País, Süddeutsche Zeitung and La Stampa address some common claims about migration
- Migrants’ tales: ‘I feel for those who were with me. They got asylum in the sea’: Who are the people who die in the Mediterranean on an almost daily basis? The Guardian has worked with a team of reporters from five other European newspapers to track a very 21st-century odyssey
- The trouble with Fortress Europe: openDemocracy