Migrants attempt to smuggle their way into the city by hiding in concealed chambers in the backs of cars. Photograph: Delegation of Government Melilla
Back in the autumn of 1998, a teacher from Melilla called Jose Palazon noticed something strange was happening each night to the dustbin in front of his house. He kept an eye out and discovered that, under cover of darkness, a young boy was removing the rubbish from the bin so that he could sleep in it. The idea of the child being reduced to the status of trash was worrying but not entirely surprising to Palazon, who was used to the sight of migrants sleeping rough on the streets of his city.
Melilla sits on the north coast of Africa, surrounded by the waters and territory of Morocco. For the ceaseless tide of African and Asian migrants working their way northwards, it has a compulsive attraction: by accident of military conquest more than 500 years ago, this city which is geographically African is legally part of Spain. As the migrants reach the Mediterranean, where so many of their predecessors have died, Melilla offers them a safe bridge into Europe – if they can smuggle themselves across its barricaded perimeter.