Waiting to Burn: Spanish-Maghribi Relations and the Making of a New Migrant Class
It is impossible to think of modern Spanish-Maghribi relations without thinking of the complicated histories of migration that have shaped both nations. 'Hrig,' the Moroccan Arabic term for 'illegal immigration,' translates to 'burning,' signifying both the literal burning of one's identification papers to avoid repatriation if arrested by Spanish authorities and the symbolic burning of one's past in hopes of a better future abroad. This article draws on multiple years of ethnographic research with Morocco's rapidly expanding population of sub-Saharan Africans, illuminating a critical crossroads that falls just south of Europe's ongoing migrant and refugee 'crisis.' After its independence from France in 1956, Morocco quickly became a world leader in emigration, with over 10% of its citizens residing in Western Europe by 2000. But since the turn of the century, Morocco's placement only miles from an internally borderless European Union, with even easier entry through the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, has fomented the number of migrants and asylum seekers crossing on their journeys north. This population is projected to continue growing steadily in the coming years, as the European Union bolsters third-party political agreements between Spain and Morocco and formalises the illicit practice of 'push-backs' at its southern borders. The following pages explore the process of 'burning' through Morocco's history at the apex of trans-continental African migrations and Spain's contemporary role in shaping emergent immigration policies and reinforced border controls across the Maghrib. Inviting readers inside of a little seen side of a global humanitarian crisis, it raises critical questions about new and contested categories of social and political inclusion at the Spanish-Moroccan border.