Ceuta and Melilla

Location: northern coast of Morocco
Population: Ceuta: 65,000, Melilla: 53,000
% of population: Ceuta: 80% Spanish, 20% Moroccan; Melilla: 66% Spanish, 34% Moroccan
Religion: Catholic, Muslim
Language: Spanish, Arabic

Ceuta and Melilla are two small Spanish-ruled enclaves on the north coast of Morocco, the last remainder of Spain’s 600-year-old African empire. Administratively they are part of the autonomous government of Andalucia. Ethnically they are a mixture of Spaniards, Muslims with Spanish nationality, and Moroccans, who reside there legally or illegally.

The continued existence of the two enclaves has been an issue of contention between Spain and Morocco. Morocco claimed them and brought the issue before the UN Decolonization Committee in 1975 and compared Spain’s presence to the British in Gibraltar. However in 1986 the Moroccan monarch stated that a solution must come through “dialogue and persuasion”.

There has been politically motivated violence and ethnic disturbances in both Ceuta and Melilla over the past decade. The majority of resident Spaniards are opposed to change while many Moroccans wish for union with Morocco. Some Muslims feel that there should be special provisions to protect their religious, language and cultural rights within Spain. The Socialist government has attempted to raise the living standards and grant permanent status and equal rights to Muslims living in Ceuta and Melilla. A new Spanish Aliens law was introduced in 1985 and it was announced that all Muslims who applied for residence permits would obtain Spanish nationality within 10 years, while those whose papers were not in order would be expelled. There are economic reasons why many Muslims wish the enclaves to remain Spanish. Both the cities are free ports attracting tourists from the mainland. However with the removal of border controls within the European Communities in 1992 their present status may be problematic.

(See also Gibraltarians)