‘You did it! What a party. Congratulations from Ceuta!” Salah Ahmed (20) shouts in a video on TikTok, in which he congratulates his fellow sufferers who did manage to storm the border fences in Melilla about three hundred kilometers to the east on Friday. Salah, in a green bandana and pigtails, is surrounded by his cheering inmates at the migrant center in the Spanish exclave of Ceuta.

    “Five brothers have perished, may God have their souls. But we pray for you,” he says with a laugh, raising his thumbs up.

    Not five, but ultimately 23 people were killed Friday when some 500 migrants, from a group of more than 1,500, stormed the 10-meter-high border fence in an attempt to reach EU territory with Melilla. Storms in the Ceuta and Melilla exclaves happen dozens of times a year, but since last March not on this scale and with these fatal consequences. During a two-hour confrontation between migrants, Moroccan and Spanish police and security personnel, migrants were killed by crushing and trampling. 63 migrants are said to have been injured, as were more than 100 police officers. In the end, 133 migrants managed to get to Melilla, mostly Sudanese.

    No one knows better what the surviving migrants endured than Ayoub Mohamed (21) and Safir Dima (20). They are also from Sudan. They come up the steep slope where the remote migrant center CETI is located, an hour’s walk from the center of Ceuta. The building is surrounded by high fences. The green environment is polluted with litter lying around, from plastic chairs to broken ears.

    “I’ve been here for two months, two weeks and three days,” Safir says, leaning against a guardrail, his bare, muscular torso and white shorts. His friend Ayoub arrived two weeks later, after a journey of more than two years, most of which he made on foot. “I spent a year in Libya, six months in Algeria and another six months in Morocco.” Ayoub, who looks shyly at the ground in his red and white striped T-shirt, managed to climb over the barbed-wire fence in Ceuta on his second attempt.

    “This guy was lucky. I only succeeded with blood, sweat and a lot of tears after 21 times”, Safir chuckles. He points to the scars on his left arm. “Look, this is because of the blows I received from the Spanish border police.”

    “We came on foot from Sudan. That meter-high European fence is the last heavy step of an intense journey,” says Safir. Despite the confrontations with the Moroccan and Spanish border police, despite the risks, giving up is not an option, the three say. Safir: “Everyone keeps trying until they either set foot on Spanish territory or die. Those are the two options.”

    You take the pain of the barbed wire for granted

    Yahya migrant from Guinea-Bissau

    “You have to jump like Spider-Man”, suddenly laughs 20-year-old Yahya from Guinea-Bissau who was sitting quietly, with earphones in, on a guardrail opposite the gates of the CETI. “You have to pull yourself up with all your strength and speed. You just take the pain of the barbed wire for granted. Because of the adrenaline, you don’t feel the pain until later anyway. Once at the top, you have to drop down. There is hardly any time to climb down, because the border police have already realized that we are over the fence”. “Too many guys here have broken their ankle or leg in that fall,” Safir added.

    Link with the police

    The young Sudanese tells how, in all their efforts, they even developed something like a bond with the police. “Especially the Moroccan border police. Then when we tried to climb the fence again and we got caught again, they always laughed and said ‘sahbi (friend), try again tomorrow night’”, smiles Safir. “Some even gave us 100 dirhams (10 euros) for food and a place to sleep,” Salah shouts, rejoining the conversation. “The Spanish agents are afraid, that’s why they use so much violence,” says Ayoub. “They think we’re monsters when we’re just trying to survive,” Yahya nods.

    Through Safir Dima’s TikTok account, the boys help other migrants over the fences by sharing tips. “I give them advice on which route to take. Which part of the fence they should try and what time is the best time to try,” says Safir, who reaches more than thirty-five thousand people every day through his account. “Yesterday about 35 boys arrived here again. That makes me so happy,” he says proudly.

    retired nun

    Awaiting a verdict on their asylum application, the boys sleep in the CETI. During the day they sometimes take refuge with a retired nun, Paula Domingo, who has been working for 22 years for the integration of migrants with her Elin foundation. “Paula is an angel,” says Safir. “She feels like family,” Salah agrees.

    In the classroom thirty minutes’ walk from CETI, Domingo, dressed simply in an oversized gray T-shirt with pants and sneakers, talks about her work. “We teach them not only the language here, but also the norms and values ​​of Spanish society, human rights and everything about culture and equality.” On the wall behind her hangs a large drawing showing migrants by the sea. They are surrounded by the words: ‘courage, libertad, famille’. According to Domingo, the Spaniards allow themselves to be ruled by fear of migrants. “The people here are very traditional. Migration is seen as dangerous and policies support these unfounded fears.” According to her, it is no coincidence that the immigration center is far away from civilization. “They keep the immigrants as far away from the ‘ordinary’ people as possible. That doesn’t help with integration, so I instruct the boys to interact with the people of Ceuta. This way they learn Spanish and the residents of Ceuta see that the immigrants are actually just people,” says Domingo.

    In the meantime, it does not mean that the group wants to stay at the fence in Spain. Destinations like France and Germany are popular. The Netherlands is also mentioned. “My mother is counting on me,” says Safir. He has been the head of the family since the death of his father. “I have to feed my brothers and sisters. I couldn’t do that in Sudan, where the government is only busy filling its own pockets. The youth are doomed to storm fences here.”

    Read also this recent report about Moroccan migrant workers in Ceuta