Chapter 2: The Walled City : Up First Every year, thousands of migrants arrive at the northern end of the African continent. Many have traveled for years, through jungle, farmland and the vast Sahara desert, hoping to cross into Europe, where they believe a better future awaits.

Last week on Up First Sunday, we told the story of Senegalese migrants embarking on the dangerous journey to Europe by sea. This week, we consider a different kind of crossing. In North Africa, Spain controls two small cities: Ceuta and Melilla. If migrants can scale the heavily fortified border fences surrounding these enclave cities, they will officially be on European soil.

We check in with Ari Shapiro, the co-host of NPR's All Things Considered, as he explores the realities facing migrants just outside of the walled city of Melilla–in Nador, Morocco.

This is the second episode from our series following the connections between climate change, migration and rising political extremism. Chapter 3 publishes next Sunday.

Chapter 2: The Walled City

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Hey, Ari, are you there? Can you hear me?

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: I'm here. I hear you loud and clear, Rachel.


This is UP FIRST Sunday. I'm Rachel Martin, and today we pick up our story about the people migrating from the African continent to Europe with the host of All Things Considered, Ari Shapiro.

SHAPIRO: OK. The last time I talked to you, I was on the western edge of the African continent.

MARTIN: Back in October, Ari and his team started their journey in the coastal city of Saint-Louis in Senegal, a point of departure for Senegalese migrants trying to reach Europe by sea. This is the second episode in a series we're doing about Ari's reporting trip following the connections between climate change, migration and rising political extremism. When Ari was about halfway through his trip, I checked in with him again, a couple days after he and his team had made it to the far north of the African continent.

SHAPIRO: Now I am in a city called Melilla which is surrounded on three sides by Morocco. But Melilla is what's called a Spanish enclave city. It is part of Spain, but it is on the African continent.

MARTIN: Melilla overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. And on the other side of the sea is the European mainland, about 120-mile ferry ride away. And for thousands of migrants who have traveled from as far away as South Sudan and Ethiopia, this is a crucial waystation, the most important border that they may need to cross, because if they can get into Melilla, they are officially on Spanish soil. However, that's not easy.

SHAPIRO: There are 20-foot-tall fences, four layers deep, guarded by authorities with heavy guns. It is serious. And that's all paid for by the European Union. And the Moroccan government enforces that border because it gives them political leverage. Like, they can say to Europe, all right, you want to keep these migrants out, then you need to give us something in return. Maybe that's money. Maybe that's help with territorial disputes. The migrants who want to get into Melilla become, like, a pawn that Morocco can use. And so right now, with money from the European Union, Morocco is taking a hard-line approach against sub-Saharan migrants.


MARTIN: Ari and his team wanted to see what was on the other side of the fences. Now, they've got the luxury of being able to do that because they're carrying U.S. passports. So from Melilla, Ari gets out his documentation, crosses through customs and leaves Europe.

SHAPIRO: And with that, we've officially left Spain.

MARTIN: He walks into the Moroccan city of Nador.

SHAPIRO: And now into Morocco.

(Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).


SHAPIRO: OK, so I want you to imagine routes that snake all across Africa. Like, people spend years trying to get to Europe through Libya or through Tunisia. Maybe they work on farms to raise money to continue their journey. And many of those winding paths that people take lead here, to Nador, where their journey kind of comes to a standstill and they wait.


SHAPIRO: And turns out, as we discovered through experience, Morocco does not love journalists asking questions about migration.


MARTIN: Coming up, Ari tells me about his time in Nador and his brush with Moroccan authorities. Stay with us.

Hey, it's Rachel. We're back with UP FIRST Sunday. Ari and his team left the walled city of Melilla, Spain, and walked across the border into Nador, Morocco, to talk with some of the migrants who are stuck there.

SHAPIRO: Walking through the Moroccan city of Nador in the morning, my first impressions are of the smells. Big baskets of spices are set out in front of shops. People are drinking mint tea, and there's fresh baked breads coming out of the bakeries that smell like sesame seeds and yeast.


SHAPIRO: We walked down to this church in the center of Nador.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).


SHAPIRO: This is one of the few places migrants can come for food and shelter. Right outside of the church, there are police guards standing guard. And we met one Malian woman there with a 2-year-old on her back, and she just said it's very, very difficult.

(Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Non-English language spoken).

SHAPIRO: "The police harass us all the time. There's lots of racism. We're just asking for charity to eat."

And I - as we finish this very brief interview outside the church, I said, is there anything else you want to tell us? Anything else you want people to know?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Non-English language spoken).

SHAPIRO: And she said, "Just tell them to open a border so we can go in. Just tell them to open a border."

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Non-English language spoken).

MARTIN: And she could be waiting for who knows how long - indefinitely.

SHAPIRO: We asked her if she had tried to cross before, and she said, yes, when I was pregnant, and it didn't work.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Through interpreter) Yeah, with a little boat. It didn't work, and they caught us.

SHAPIRO: And now her daughter is 2 1/2.


MARTIN: OK, so, Ari, what are the options, then, for crossing the border? Once people like this have arrived in Nador, what do they have to do?

SHAPIRO: The options are all bad. You can't apply for asylum until you get to Europe, and basically, you can only do that by land or by sea. So you can pay a human smuggler to try to take you across the water from Morocco to Spain, or you can storm the fence. So Nador is a bottleneck. And the police have made life almost impossible for migrants. Authorities have actually prohibited people from renting rooms to migrants. And so when those same people set up camps in the forests and the mountains above the city, authorities show up and burn down the camps. And if you're a journalist who shows up to report on it, you may well be followed by police, and - as we were yesterday. So we started our day interviewing...

MARTIN: Wait, so tell me - wait. Yeah.


MARTIN: Let's just back up, so...

SHAPIRO: So we got followed by police yesterday.

MARTIN: OK, so tell me what happened.

SHAPIRO: So we knew from talking to local journalists that this was a possibility.


SHAPIRO: I looked around at our group, and I said, well, I don't know. Like, it's not like we're subtle. I've got a notebook. You've got a microphone.

MARTIN: Ari had been hoping to get up to one of these camps, but he had been warned by local activists and journalists that getting into a camp could be impossible.

SHAPIRO: You're going to get turned around by police because they guard the roads that lead to these camps. But the local journalists we were working with said, hey, I know this little village where there's a guy who's been helping the migrants.

OK, we're turning off the main road onto a bumpy dirt track.

So we drive up to this little village in the mountains, and we're talking to this guy who owns a small general store, and he says he gives the people living in the hills whatever they need - blankets, shoes.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Non-English language spoken).

SHAPIRO: What do the authorities do when they see you help?

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Non-English language spoken).

SHAPIRO: The police pick him up and question him all the time. And he's this grizzled old man. He clearly does not give a blank about being picked up by police. I said, well, could you get in trouble for talking to us? He said, in trouble for talking? I'm allowed to talk. I mean, they can do whatever they want, but I'm going to talk to who I want to talk to.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Through interpreter) So just - they are just making problems - harassment, making problems and life difficult.

SHAPIRO: And so why do you continue to offer help even when you know police will harass you for it?

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Through interpreter) I cannot stay and do nothing. I cannot stay here and not help. I mean, that would be impossible. If you need - if you see a person who needs help, you have to do it.

SHAPIRO: He was very, very defiant. He described two days ago seeing this plume of smoke on a nearby hill where the authorities had burned a migrant camp. And I said, look, you gave those people those things that were going up in smoke. How do you feel when you see authorities do that?

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Through interpreter) You cannot put that feeling in words. How would you describe it? You cannot.

I just close my eyes and go inside. That's the only thing I can do.

(Non-English language spoken).

SHAPIRO: "The heart can't feel what the eyes don't see, so I just look away."

And then, as if on cue...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: (Non-English language spoken).

SHAPIRO: ...This beat-up old clunker of a car rolls up, and this guy in civilian clothes and a baseball cap gets out, and he says, do you have authorization to be here? And we say, authorization to sit and talk?

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: He said that we have to go. We don't have a right to be here.


And he takes photographs of our car license plate, and he says, wait here for my colleagues to arrive. So 20 minutes later, this much fancier-looking SUV pulls up, and this guy in a suit and tie steps out, and he says, do you have a license to be here? Do you have permission? And the local journalist who we hired to work with us says, this is my friend who I've met and talked to many times. I need permission to talk to him? And he says, well, what are you talking to him about? And she says, we're talking about migrants. And the man in the suit says, and I quote, "we work on this to not have any Black people here."


SHAPIRO: As if to say, there's no story here. There's nothing to see. So he delayed us for another half hour or so, eventually said we were free to go. But...

MARTIN: I'm still absorbing - I'm still trying to absorb what he told you, just sort of matter of fact. Just...

SHAPIRO: Very matter of fact.

MARTIN: ...Saying it out loud.

SHAPIRO: And, you know, our team talked about whether we should tell this story publicly because, of course, our top concern is the safety of the local people we worked with and spoke to. But the journalist in Melilla who was helping us said something that I thought was really insightful. She said to the authorities, this is a story about how good they are at their job. Like, they tracked us down and made sure we wouldn't come back and try to do this again. And for me, the experience just underscored how almost obsessive Morocco is about making sure that they stamp out any little inquiries into what's actually going on.

MARTIN: Huh. So do you have numbers? Just how many people are we talking about?

SHAPIRO: Well, I can tell you about one incident in June, which everybody here talks about as a turning point...


SHAPIRO: ...When 1,500 people who had been living in the hills above the city of Melilla basically stormed the fence. And then when they got to the fence, police opened fire. Moroccan authorities say it was non-lethal weapons. Morocco has not allowed a thorough, independent investigation. And so that June 24 incident was just one moment in time. I spoke with the human rights activist named Omar Naji in Nador about the incident. And our photographer, Ricci Shryock, interpreted.

OMAR NAJI: (Non-English language spoken).

RICCI SHRYOCK, BYLINE: "What happened the 24 of June was a tragedy, and it was a crime. It was a crime of European, Moroccan and Spanish politics."

SHAPIRO: In the official count, Morocco and Spain say 23 people died, but human rights groups say more than 70 others who ran at the fence that day are still unaccounted for, so the real number of dead could be much higher. We just don't know.

NAJI: (Non-English language spoken).

SHRYOCK: "It's not the fence that kills people. It's the political migration policy that kills people."

NAJI: (Non-English language spoken).

SHAPIRO: The majority of migrants who survived did not make it across the fence, and they had to return to the hills or go someplace else.

MARTIN: So what happens to those people? I mean, once you get that far on this journey and you're pushed back like that, what do they do?

SHAPIRO: You know, I just spoke with the Spanish gentleman who runs the migration centers in Melilla and the other enclave city called Ceuta. And he said...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: (Speaking Spanish).

SHAPIRO: "Migration is like water. If you block it one place, it'll go another place." And so as the land border here has been reinforced, human traffickers have come in to fill the gap and take people across the Mediterranean Sea, which is, of course, much more dangerous, much more expensive. And when you have human traffickers involved, suddenly, organized crime becomes a factor. But on that day, June 24, some people did get into the city. And there have, in fact, always been some people who have gotten into the city of Melilla, and then you're in Europe. Even though you're still on the African continent, even though it might not look terribly different from Morocco, you are in Europe. And then you can claim asylum. You are transferred to the Spanish mainland, and you can start to build a life for yourself.

You know, we met some other - we met migrants in the city of Melilla who had actually successfully gotten through the border. This one guy - his name is Steven Khon Khon. He was one of the people who stormed the fence on June 24 along with his younger brother. And his brother did not make it and is still in Morocco.

STEVEN KHON KHON: That's one thing I never forget. OK?

SHAPIRO: Steven is now 24. He was a teenager when he left Sudan. He's been traveling for six years. For some of that time, he was in prison in Libya. For some of that time, he was working forced labor. He listed the countries that he had been through. Let me just give you this list because it was - I couldn't - hang on a second. Oh, yeah, yeah. So OK. He started in Sudan, then went to Egypt, then Libya, then Niger, then Algeria, then Morocco. And now finally when we met him, he's in Spain.

MARTIN: It's a long journey.

SHAPIRO: It's a long journey. I think about, you know, Ulysses and think about the number of years that Odysseus was away from home and how much of a life that is.

Sudan, Egypt, Libya...

KHON KHON: Niger. Algeria.

SHAPIRO: Niger, Algeria, Morocco.

And, of course, his travails aren't over.


SHAPIRO: I mean, he doesn't even know if he'll be granted permission to stay. It's hard to wrap your head around.

MARTIN: It is. And it just underscores the stakes of making it work once you get there. You hope it's worth it on the other end.


MARTIN: So where do you go now?

SHAPIRO: So now we go to mainland Spain. We are going to be in the south of Spain, which is an area that there are a lot of migrants who have found work in the agricultural fields, in construction. It's also an area where a far-right xenophobic party called Vox has gained a lot of power. And this is a party that wants to put up more barriers and stop the migration that we've been documenting up till now.

MARTIN: OK. I'll talk to you from mainland Spain.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Talk to you then.

MARTIN: OK. Take care, Ari. Bye.

That was my friend and colleague Ari Shapiro on his reporting in Melilla, Spain, and Nador, Morocco. Next week on UP FIRST Sunday, Ari and his team get a glimpse at what life is like for migrants who have made it into Europe and are working in the strawberry fields of Spain. That's next week on UP FIRST Sunday.

This episode was produced by Justine Yan with help from Miguel Macias. Jenny Schmidt is our editor. The climate migration series for UP FIRST Sunday is edited by Jenny Schmidt and Justine Yan, with reporting by Ari Shapiro, Miguel Macias, Noah Caldwell, Matt Ozug and Ayen Bior. Special thanks to the All Things Considered team that made this collaboration possible, including executive producer Sami Yenigun, editor Sarah Handel, producer Lee Hale and intern Mallika Seshadri. Thanks also to photographer Ricci Shryock, who helped with interpretation in Melilla and Nador. Digital support from producer Audrey Nguyen and visuals editor Grace Widyatmadja. Brian Jarboe mastered this episode. Scoring comes from First Call Music, Universal Production Music and Audio Network. Our show is produced by NPR's Enterprise Storytelling Unit. Liana Simstrom is the supervising producer, and Irene Noguchi is the executive producer. Anya Grundmann is our vice president of programming.

I'm Rachel Martin. UP FIRST is back tomorrow with all the news you need to start your week. Part three, the final episode of our series, drops next Sunday. Until then, have a great rest of your weekend.

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