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The City on the Front Lines of Europe’s Immigration Crisis

The city of Melilla is a fortified pocket of Spain in Morocco, where young migrants from across Africa gather to attempt the dangerous crossing into the E.U.
"I would love for many things to change," says Ahmed, who's 17. "That they could make it easier for us to work. That they could stop mistreating us. That they respect us.”
"I would love for many things to change," says Ahmed, who's 17. "That they could make it easier for us to work. That they could stop mistreating us. That they respect us.”Adriana Loureiro Fernandez/CityLab/Univision

The fence emerges from the ground like a metal snake zigzagging through the arid African hills, hidden behind barbed wire and watchtowers. On one side of the fence is Morocco; on the other is Spain. For the thousands of immigrants who dream of crossing it, this fence is a door to the European Union.    

Melilla is one of two cities in Morocco that are formally part of Spain. The other, Ceuta, is located right across the Straight of Gibraltar and just 14 miles from the southern coast of mainland Spain; Melilla is in the heart of the eastern region of Morocco known as the Rif, an hour from the Algerian border and more than 120 miles south of Motril, in Andalusia, the closest port in mainland Spain. The two cities represent the only land borders between the European Union and Africa.