At The Doors Of Europe

José Palazón, the president of the NGO Prodein (Pro Childrens Rights), is taking Ouafe and Mohamed to the courthouse. Palazón is the best known activist in Melilla and founder of Prodein, where he has been for twenty years, helping the most vulnerable people that come here asking for Asylum. He is helping the young couple navigate around the legal red tape necessary to fight their eviction from Spanish soil and be accepted in the CETI.
At The Doors Of Europe
Photos by Maria Contreras Coll
Text by Gonçalo Fonseca

“It was midday, my sister was cooking in our apartment in Rabat. My mother had taken my sick grandma to the hospital. My father was out, working. I was alone in my room. So I just took my things and left without saying a word. Mohamed was waiting downstairs, anxious. We were fleeing to Melilla, Spain” whispers Ouafe,“That was five months ago”.

Under the blistering heat of noon, a meager lunch is being prepared in the improvised settlement at the doors of the Center for Temporary Stay of Immigrants of Melilla (CETI). Abdelatif (37), is stirring a pot with rice and onions. He is one of the 14 Moroccans that made their way into Melilla several months ago, searching for a better life and protection by Spain. They all waited in the CETI, hoping to be granted Asylum. But that was not the case. They were thrown out and told to leave Spanish soil in 48 hours. But for many, like Ouafe and her partner, going back was not an option and have been, for a month, out on the street, facing the elements, enduring violence and police raids.

Mohamed (19), is helping prepare the food. He used to work as a cook in his father’s restaurant in Latakia, Syria. When he met Ouafe, his family had been fleeing the Syrian Civil War for the past two years and were hoping to enter Europe through Melilla. They stayed for a few weeks in Ouafe’s neighbourhood in Rabaat, Morroco. That was when they fell in love.

But her father had different plans. He wanted to make her marry a 27 year old cousin, that had a job and a car, not with a poor Syrian refugee. They arranged their getaway through Facebook and decided to escape together to Europe.

After spending two weeks in the CETI in Melilla with his companion, the young Syrian received the Political Asylum and got on a boat with his family, headed for Spain. Their goal was to reach Belgium. He left with the certainty that Ouafe would soon join them. But after two months waiting, she was expelled from the Center. Her petition was denied. Although Mohamed had been travelling from country to country, fleeing the war for the past two years, he left his family in Europe and made his way into Melilla.

A small hut is now their home, which they share with another six people. None of them have anywhere to go. They can’t go back to Morocco, where they have escaped for political and ideological reasons, or for the simple fact that they are gay. They don’t have running water or a bathroom, and all the food and water they get is out of solidarity.

It’s Saturday. Inside the CETI, all the children are dancing and cheering to loud Arabic tunes. Ouafe stands with sunken eyes behind the metal bars that separate the Center from the outside world. “Look how happy they are… Everyone is happy, except for us.”

Text by Gonçalo Fonseca

About the author:
Maria Contreras Coll was born in 1991 in Spain. She graduated in Fine Arts (2014) from the  Universitat de Barcelona and did a postgraduate degree in Photojournalism (2016) at Unversitat Autonoma de Barcelona.

She has been published by Vice, Internazionale, LaColumna,, and her work has been exhibited in numerous venues in Barcelona.

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