The institutions and administrations in Melilla boast that this city is an example of the good coexistence between cultures and of the success of tolerance and respect. They use multiculturalism to attract tourism, and its population is proud of it.
Photo: Square of the four cultures - Melilla
However, we believe that tolerance goes beyond a square in the city centre and beyond celebrating the holidays of the different cultures living in the city, or having a diverse cuisine. Tolerance implies respect and an active fight for human rights, and a positive perception of the diversity inherent in all people. And here is where Melilla shows its darker side. Institutional racism is so embedded in the city's structure that it has even been normalized by Melilla's population. The lack of a census - and therefore the denial of health care and education; the existence of minors who are living in the streets because they do not trust the Centres for Child Protection where they sleep crowded together, their documentation is not processed, where they find it hard to sleep thinking about what will happen to them when they come of age and where they are not allowed to be children; asylum seekers who live with despair at the prospect of ever being transferred to the mainland and being able to start to rebuild the life they deserve; women and girls who are abandoned to their fate, police violence, the rejection by the local population of all these people who pass through Melilla on their journeys and finally, the fence, that wall which separates us from others, that symbol which shows that our society looks down on diversity, on otherness, a clear example of our intolerance.
The young people who live on the streets of the city experience this rejection every day, they suffer the criminalization by some citizens who blame them for security problems, without thinking that it is the State that is failing to protect the welfare of its citizens; without realizing that rejection, insults, a hostile attitude or even indifference seriously affects these people, resulting in their anguish, frustration, anger and distrust. A society that sees them as criminals - and not as children -, a system that deprives them of their right to live their childhood and adolescence without having to worry about what they will eat or where they will sleep, pushing them to risk their lives to cross over to the Peninsula, being beaten, insulted and mistreated every day by the police.
But this city also shows us that real tolerance is possible. There are some people - not many, and there could be more - who fight every day to make this city a little more just. Humble people who do not need their names to be known, who do not belong to any organization, simple citizens who raise the concept of tolerance. They know the young people who live on the streets, they know their names and understand their aspirations, they accompany them to the hospital so that they are attended, they struggle in the Department of Immigration so that they can exercise their rights, they welcome them into their homes when necessary, they try to find a way out for these more vulnerable women, they make their children and nephews share an afternoon of play with these young people. And, above all, and most importantly, they treat these people as such and make them stop feeling that they are in a hostile territory for a moment and make them feel welcomed and respected. And these acts are what will enable Melilla to become one day the tolerant, respectful and fair city that they boast so much about.
On the International Day for Tolerance we remind that: "Tolerance is not concession, condescension or indulgence. Tolerance is, above all, an active attitude prompted by recognition of the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms of others".
By Anna Peñarroya