You may have read in previous posts about "Plaza de Toros" and probably asked yourselves: “the bull ring? Yes, it is not a way of speaking. The authorities decided to set up this space to accommodate people who had nowhere to stay after the lockdown decreed last March. This was after they were forced to move the people from the previous space they had set up in the Lázaro Fernández Sports Pavilion due to complaints from neighbours ("it's going to become a CETI 2.0").
As you know, the border with Morocco was closed almost overnight on 13 March and many ‘cross-border people’ were stranded in the Autonomous City. It is true that in May and September the border was opened so that the people with Moroccan nationality who wished to return to their country could do so. However, for many others, returning to Morocco is not part of their plans: for them, Melilla is just one more step on their migratory journey, and their objective is the mainland or even France, England or Germany.
The Plaza de Toros is divided into two areas which can be accessed through different doors. On the one hand, the area where the asylum seekers are, that works as an extension of the CETI (the Centre for Temporary Stay of Immigrants). Some organisations specialised in asylum issues such as UNHCR and CEAR have access to this module. On the other hand, there is the "Moroccan" area, which is how this part is usually referred to, where there is a melting-pot of people with different profiles and backgrounds. This area is divided into a module for girls and another one for boys*. It is difficult to know the total of people living there, but we estimate that there is room for 400 people.
Today we will tell you how daily life is perceived by K., a Moroccan boy who was under guardianship of the Department of Social Welfare. After turning 18, he had to leave the reception centre for unaccompanied minors La Purísima where he spent 1 year and was transferred to Plaza de Toros. It is worth remembering that, before the emergence of Covid and all its consequences, this people who had previously been under guardianship receive no support from public resources when they reach the age of majority. In other words, if you have a family or a network of friends you may find a place to live, but if you do not, you are doomed to live in the streets. This is actually what more than often happened in Melilla and what makes that to date, at least as far as we know, there is no alternative to this new facility.
So K. gets up early, before breakfast, which is served from 9am to 10am and consists of a glass of cold milk and two biscuits. If he can, he goes out for sports in the morning, he likes to go jogging. K. also spends his time reading, studying History on his own, listening to music. Lunch is served from 1pm to 2pm. in the same place where they have breakfast, with the same fences to control the queues and the same procedure. The delivery is usually supervised by private security, who ask them for the number they were given at registration. It is a two-course meal, plus bread and they are provided 1.5 litres of water every two days per person - remember that tap water in Melilla is not drinkable. Don't imagine a dining room with chairs and tables; they eat on the floor or wherever they can. Dinner is at 8 pm and "every day it’s mortadella sandwiches and nothing more”. Sometimes they give snacks, which can be salad or rice; K thinks it is the leftover food from the CETI.
The best way to explain where they sleep is by looking at the attached photographs taken from inside. On arrival they are given a blanket but, according to many of the boys, they still feel cold. We also want to hightlight that while Red Cross - the organisation responsible for health and hygiene within the centre - told us that they were given an hygiene kit including a toothbrush, soap and a towel, K. never received such a kit. Only a blanket the day he arrived and nothing more in the two months he has been there. As for the showers, they do not use the ones in the bathrooms but ones that have been set up outside. According to K., there are 12 showers, and they can be accessed from 10 am to 1 pm. – cold water showers, as he assures us.
When we ask K. if there .is anything he would like to say about Plaza de Toros, he tells us about an incident that took place on 9 January around midday, the last day of the quarantine that had been decreed in Plaza de Toros in December. Many of the residents wanted to leave, as their confinement was supposedly over. Eulen's private security did not allow them to leave and, we imagine that overwhelmed, called the National Police to help them contain the people. A first van arrived, and then a second one, from which, according to K, police got out of, throwing rubber balls, and even injuring one boy in the head, and hitting with their batons. K claims that an Algerian boy has a broken arm as a result of this aggression. It is really difficult to understand why the Plaza de Toros was opened only minutes after the National Police left.
Although, as we say, the only current alternative is living in the streets, we believe that the dignity of the people who are now in Plaza de Toros is not being respected, and not only because of this kind of acts including an abusive use of force by security forces, but also because of various other issues which we will explore in more detail. The impossibility of accessing Plaza de Toros if you are not registered is already a sign of the lack of transparency on the part of the institutions; the testimonies that reach us from inside give an account of the treatment they receive: arbitrary, biased by ethnic features and a reflection of a system that gives power to a private security guard (a service outsourced by the public institutions) with a Spanish ID card as opposed to a person without the same privilege. In addition, the difficulty or impossibility for many homeless people to access the premises leads us to question the criteria for accessing a supposedly public service at the service of the people.
To conclude, we would simply like to mention that according to Wikipedia, the Plaza de Toros of Melilla was the only active bullring on the entire African continent, where there are only 9 bullrings. No longer active: something good had to come from the Coronavirus.
* The separation according to binary approaches is used in this post as a reflection of that reality, not necessarily coinciding with the sensibility of Solidary Wheels or NNK.