Melilla – Spanish exclave in Morocco and free port

Melilla is a piece of Spain in Morocco. It is a Spanish exclave on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and officially it is not located in Morocco but borders this North African country. It is in fact a piece of Europe on the African continent. To keep Melilla mainly European, a high wall has been built around the city, which is defended with fire and sword against people who attempt to cross the border illegally. The refugees on top of the meter-high fences have put Melilla on the map, but the free port is also known for its beautiful sandy beaches, fantastic surfing, sailing and diving locations and fishing. The Spanish city is also known for its tax-free sales of drinks, tobacco and perfume. There are almost 2000 kilometers between Amsterdam and Melilla. To get there, you first fly to Málaga in Spain and then take the boat to Melilla or transfer to another plane for the crossing of the Mediterranean Sea.

Piece of Europe in Morocco

  • Melilla – Spanish exclave in Africa
  • Blessings and troubles
  • Berbers
  • Noray and Nador
  • Freeport and Parsley Island
  • Storms and migrants
  • Fence of Melilla and Cueta – an iron curtain
  • Victimes de nos richesses
  • Developments around the exclave


Melilla – Spanish exclave in Africa

The Spanish exclave is no more than 13 km² in size. About 85,000 people live there. Melilla is an autonomous city of Spain where Spanish is also the main language. Politically it belongs to Europe and geographically to Africa. As an autonomous city within Spain, Melilla is part of the European Union. The city receives a lot of financial support from Europe, which finances dozens of EU construction projects.
Exclave and Enclave
Melilla is an exclave. Enclaves and exclaves are territories that politically belong to one country while they are surrounded by territory of another country. Seen from the surrounding country it is called an enclave: you could say that Melilla is a Spanish enclave in Morocco. But the city is not located in Morocco, it borders Morocco. Melilla is an exclave of Spain surrounded by Morocco.


The city has a Mediterranean climate with temperatures in the summer months of 25 to 30 degrees. In winter it is 15 to 20 degrees.

Blessings and troubles

Melilla has some blessings and some problems. One of the blessings is the rich fishing and processing industry that the city relies on and another is the fantastic surfing conditions. A problem is the asylum seekers who regularly storm the fences around the exclave. Another problem is that Morocco sees the area as occupied Moroccan territory. As far as Melilla is concerned, it is Ciudad Atónoma de Melilla , the autonomous city of Melilla. In the area the first and third worlds meet and you will find a melting pot of cultures. The Melillans are proud of their beautiful city, but the part of Europe in Africa causes problems. The immigration problem is the biggest of these.


The name Melilla comes from Melil , which is Berber for white or white. In the language of the Berbers from the Rif Mountains, Riffian, the city is called Mritch . Melilla consists of the old town and the new town. The citadel was walled as early as the 6th century and is located about 30 meters higher than the new city.
Melilla / Source: Melillense, Wikimedia Commons (GFDL)

Noray and Nador

Melilla has a large marina, Noray , where hundreds of sailing boats can moor. Tourism is important and the two kilometer long beach is one of the favorites of visitors and residents. In addition to the marina, there is also a commercial port and a jetty for the ferry to the Iberian Peninsula. There is a daily connection with Almeria . The port is a bowl with two arms and part of it is Moroccan territory. Neighboring city Nador lays claim to the southeastern part of the harbor basin.

Freeport and Parsley Island

The city has been a free port since 1863. It was conquered in the 15th century by Spaniard Don Pedro de Estopiñán . Together with the fortified city of Ceuta and seven uninhabited islands in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Africa, Melilla forms the exclaves of Spain. Berbers tried to reconquer it at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, but they were unsuccessful. From 1926 onwards, Spain again had a firm grip on the overseas territory. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), General Franco still used the city as a base. These are the last remnants of Spanish rule on the African continent and Spain does not want to give up those areas in order to keep an eye on the Strait of Gibraltar.

Plazas de soberania

Morocco considers the Plazas de soberanía , (Ceuta, Melilla and the Seven Isles) the sovereign places, as occupied territory and wants it back. In 2002, an armed conflict broke out because Morocco occupied Parsley Island. Spain even sent a warship and soldiers who drove the Moroccans from the island. The Moroccan flag was removed and the Spanish flag planted.

Storms and migrants

Thousands of men and women live in the forests around Spanish cities. They mainly come from countries south of the Sahara and are waiting for their chance. In 2012, Morocco started destroying the encampments and arresting illegal immigrants, but it continues to mop up with the tap open. Ceuta and Melilla, gateways to Europe, are regularly stormed by migrants and boat refugees arrive on the islands in the hope that they can cross the Mediterranean from there. It regularly leads to conflicts, with refugees and with the Moroccans, who place their flag on the islands under the guise of hunting illegal immigrants.

Fence of Melilla and Cueta – an iron curtain

In the 1990s, construction began on the fences of about six meters high, an iron curtain around the exclave that should prevent illegal immigration. In 2005, a major storm on Melilla took place, when thousands of Africans tried to enter Europe in several waves via the Spanish city. They used homemade ladders and 700 made it over the fence. Seven migrants died. They were forcibly expelled and sent back and security has since been tightened. The double fence between Spanish and Moroccan areas – there is also a high fence around Cueta – does not stop everyone. In 2014, three major storms took place again and in the years that followed they were hit regularly.

Victimes de nos richesses

The fence was built by Spain to keep out immigrants and smugglers. The documentary
Victimes de nos richesses was made about the fences near Ceuta and Melilla . A third fence with barbed wire has now been built and there is a buffer zone between Morocco and Spain. There are patrols on both sides and the border is completely closed, except for a few checkpoints . The barbed wire fence with guard posts cost Spain 33 million euros. The fence is 6 meters high and 11.5 kilometers long and has sensors and cameras. The Guardia Civil keeps watch there. Despite this, a few thousand migrants manage to enter Melilla every year. They have to choose between the fence route or the sea route. Spain will raise the fences to 10 meters in 2020. €32 million will be allocated to the entire project to modernize and strengthen border security in Ceuta and Melilla.

Developments around the exclave

About thirty African refugees climbed over the fence on June 27, 2016 and entered the enclave. What is an almost impossible fortress within Morocco was taken by refugees who took their chance. At least ninety others who also tried failed to enter Melilla. The thirty did not get far in the enclave: they were arrested within seconds by the Spanish border guards.


On January 6, 2018, Melilla was stormed by three hundred migrants and more than two hundred managed to reach Spain vanquish from Morocco. They used hooks that they threw over the fences to climb them. Several migrants and a police officer were injured and authorities in Melilla called the storm ‘violent’.


Six months later, on June 26, there is a major storm. About six hundred African migrants manage to climb over the fences around Ceuta, Melilla’s sister exclave. It is a rush that involves a lot of violence and flamethrowers to keep border guards at bay. Dozens of people are injured, including 22 police officers. A year later it happened again and a few hundred migrants stormed the enclave. They attack the police and dozens more are injured.


A . Melilla
B . Ceuta
C . Nador
D. _ Almeria
E . Parsley Island
F . Rif Mountains
G . Malaga

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