Everybody wants to build walls these days. Walls across the border with Mexico, walls across the Sahara, walls keeping people out. These engineering marvels are being proposed regularly as a solution to stop people crossing borders; walls haven’t been this popular since the Cold War (though those walls were designed to keep people in and not out).

Do they really work? Migration and asylum are incredibly complex topics, and the appeal of building a wall is that it seems to be a clear, unambiguous solution to a problem. Yet is it really more about appealing to a political base than addressing the root causes of an issue? Do walls and fences even work as deterrents?

In order to take a closer look at the local impact of the refugee crisis, we have launched our ‘Cities & Refugees‘ project – aimed at fostering a Europe-wide dialogue between citizens, refugees and asylum seekers, NGOs, politicians, and European leaders. The emphasis is on connecting local, everyday life at the city level to decisions made in Brussels and national capitals.

Today, we are looking at Melilla, a Spanish autonomous city in northern Africa. Melilla has a total population of over 86,000 people, including a foreign-born population of over 15%. The territory is separated from Morocco by three barbed-wire-topped fences (the inner fence being over six metres high!), plus a further two fences on the Moroccan side. Has it made a difference in keeping people out?

Curious to know more about walls and fences built to keep out migrants and refugees? We’ve put together some facts and figures in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).

What do our readers think? We had a comment from Rafael, who talks about a “flood of immigrants” jumping the fences from Morocco into Melilla. This seems like an exaggeration. What sort of numbers are we talking about coming into Spain via Melilla, and how does it compare to other migrant routes, such as into Greece or Italy?

To get a response, we spoke to Santiago Saez Moreno, an independent Spanish journalist who has written for DW News and La Marea, among other publications. How would he respond?

First of all, I have to say that I understand that he may be inclined to use words such as ‘flood,’ but I have to strongly advise against that. It’s not only an exaggeration, but it’s also xenophobic: these are people, not water or rocks. These are actually human beings, so ‘flood’ is not right.

I’ve been checking for numbers, and between January and August, there were 2,554 irregularly entering Melilla. While it’s an increase from 2017, it’s around a 40% increase between the same [months] that year, I wouldn’t call that a “flood.” So you get an idea, this is slightly more than sitting in the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. So it’s basically like emptying the Bolshoi Theatre into the street. That’s not exactly a flood. It’s about 1% of the people that passes through Heathrow Airport every day, 1%. And this was between January and August, so you can get the idea that this is not really a flood.

Another figure to put that into perspective would be that Spain received – between 2008 and 2017, which are basically the crisis years – 558,467 African migrants. During that same period, 556,508 migrants left the country. So that means that only around 2,000 new African migrants resided in Spain between 2008 and 2017. So I would say that any call to think of this as a “flood” or an “avalanche” or “millions” – as the conservative politicians in this country are saying – well that’s simply not true.

I would also say that irregular migration makes up around 4.5% of the total migration in Spain. The remaining 95.5% are legal migrants arriving in Spain. [Compared to Greece or Italy], there has been an increase of people coming in through Spain because the routes through Italy and Greece have been closed. People just find another route. According to the International Organisation for Migration, around 33,000 migrants made it to Spain irregularly until the 15th of July. Italy has seen around 20,000 arrivals and Greece has seen around 30,000 arrivals. So we’re talking about rather similar numbers. More people are coming through Spain than in previous years, and less are coming through Italy and Greece.

To get another perspective, we put the same comment to Maria Serrano, Senior Campaigner on Migration at Amnesty International. How would she respond to Rafael?

Next up, we had a comment sent in from Jaume, who is worried that migrants trying to cross into Melilla are faced with excessive force to keep them out. Are we overlooking a human rights scandal or is this, again, an exaggeration?

How would journalist Santiago Saez Moreno respond?

I think this is a very good question and I think it hits the nail on the head. It’s not a problem of numbers; it’s not a problem of resources. It is a problem of human rights. The general is: yes, there is a human rights scandal going on at the border. These abuses – because there are abuses – shouldn’t be entirely blamed on Spain. In my experience, Spain bears a part of the responsibility, but the EU does as well because it’s the Frontex institution that has a responsibility. Also, Morocco is to blame. This is not something new – you have been talking to Amnesty and they have probably said the same. Human Rights Watch has also denounced the situation and other local human rights watchdog organisations such as APDHA.

Now, having said this, I think we need to define ‘excessive force.’ While there are cases of aggression from Spanish police on the border, I wouldn’t say this is necessarily a widespread situation. I wouldn’t say that the Spanish police is necessarily aggressive on the border. I think the big problem these people face is more on the Moroccan side, which – anyway – they have deals with the Spanish government, so it’s not that Morocco is ‘very bad’ and Spain is ‘very good.’ They are both equally responsible.

The real violence here is institutional. So, for example, in Melilla in particular black migrants – I mean ‘black’ in the sense of dark-skinned – are not able to access the asylum office at the border. Despite the fact that these asylum offices are actually new, nobody has ever accessed it. This is the real violence and the real human right abuse going on, much more than excessive force. While the excessive force is a problem and should not be dismissed, I think there is a bigger scandal going on at the moment.

Finally, how would Maria Serrano from Amnesty International react?

Can building walls really keep out migrants and refugees? Are migrants trying to cross into Europe faced with excessive force to keep them out? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – fronterasur
The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

49 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    EU Reform- Proactive

    Naturally & respectfully it falls under the law of physics: action-reaction= “Collisions” and is governed by Newton’s law No3! F1 = -F2 (F=Force)

    EU Forces= (FEU) are laws and regulation to imprison/contain their members to political correctness inside an questionable (un) democratic concept!

    BTW- safety & security is STILL a national competency- wonder why the EU keeps sticking their nose into it.

    • avatar

      EU RP they see this as a supranational issue not as a national one, it may be a national one in treaties and laws but Politics is another animal.

    • avatar
      EU Reform- Proactive

      I refer to: “The Aachen Memorandum”= EU Plot= a 1995 thriller= a novel. No wall will be high enough!


      This thriller may become reality if the UK repeats its Brexit referendum and this time the remainders win and drive the UK into the protectionist, illiberal, anti-American, politically correct EU in a last British suicidal act of stupidity!

      All our English friends should read this to understand that a repetition of the Brexit referendum (and losing it) will be the last democratic choice all in the UK will ever have experienced or be given.

      This referendum is not about “Brexit” anymore- but about the infinitive bondage to the “European Super State” for ever!

      Reality for the Brits: kiss your Queen good bye in exchange for a Juncker type Luxembourger! Where will they emigrate to?

    • avatar
      EU Reform- Proactive

      Sorry, if I waste anybodies valuable time- but last not least:

      is this question not somewhat misleading to mention migrants (legal & illegals) & refugees (to flee to the next safe & adjoining country) in one breath? As if the one = the other one?

      Has the very strict & legal EU superpower suddenly become ambiguous?

      By now everybody has learned the difference- driven by DE’s endless discussions! It must therefore be assumed the muddle is done on purpose-or? Except, the DE refines or phrases its question more carefully- at least in future!

      Let me recount the records:

      “The main difference is choice. Simply speaking, a migrant is someone who “chooses” to move (legally or illegally), and a refugee is someone who has been “forced” from their national home!”

      Reasons being several: rouge, illegal, criminal, economic & civil strife or war- when a dictatorship or democracy totally collapses & the country reverts into chaos & becomes ungovernable. (a present example- but probably not the last= the Marxist experiment in Venezuela and attempts by African Marxist forces- even in South Africa under the banner of an ANC offspring- called the EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters)!

      Such state of collapse should be clearly announced & declared by the UN- not by any Dick, Tom, Harry, Merkel, goody goodies, the EU, NGO’s, churches, celebrities or the economic migrants themselves!

      But- all that “wall building” talk (even by US Trump) would become unnecessary would:

      * the present EU Dublin regulations be sensible, practical, acceptable by all & implementable- not a failure.
      * those 3rd world countries mentioned become strictly law abiding, modern, adopt a free & fair market economy, become honest, & economical successful- all by their own efforts- like all the other successful nations before them!

  2. avatar
    Rick Shay

    Building a wall or fence at a border is no different than a home having walls, fence and doors. To provide good order, not only for those inside, but also for those who are outside.

  3. avatar

    If anything was that simple then We wouldn’t need politicians and an army of burocrats…

  4. avatar

    The only thing that works is #ZeroTolerance.
    Protecting the borders, including at sea, must be enforced.

  5. avatar

    If it doesn’t work, build it higher.

  6. avatar

    Of course walls work, it’s idiots that ignore them for idealogical reason that are the problem.

  7. avatar

    No, they needs guards as well.

  8. avatar

    Salvini and Orban are showing that security measures do indeed work, if the politicians in charge of it have their heart in it.

  9. avatar

    ”Another figure to put that into perspective would be that Spain received – between 2008 and 2017, which are basically the crisis years – 558,467 African migrants. During that same period, 556,508 migrants left the country. So that means that only around 2,000 new African migrants resided in Spain between 2008 and 2017.”
    So where did the 500000Africans disappear to?
    Are they in other European Countries(France, UK, Germany, Switzerland, Italy etc.)?
    Were they deported?
    No way 500000take such a risk only to voluntarily go back to Africa.

  10. avatar

    What is a wall? a wall is a barrier. Barriers work to keep threats and undesirables out or to protect and guarantee a certain order within that barrier. This is why we have doors, locks, cctv, security guards, cops, military and yes borders and actual walls.

    The wall is only the visible barrier after it come laws that prevent entry without permission and subsequent deportation. If every illegal was automatically deported then it wouldn’t be a viable option to break immigration laws. If every boat in the Mediterranean was rescued and brought back to Africa then the smuggling would collapse and nobody would waste their money to take this trip. The issue is not the wall the issue is the balls to build it and the balls to send these people back, we either have leaders with the balls to do what must be done or not. We need to put our European people’s interests above any foreigners and certainly above illegals and I mean all Europeans white, black etc. It’s not good for black Europeans who are mostly law abiding when illegals from Africa come in, they have no chance for Asylum and sell drugs(because they don’t want to end up in Africa broke and embarrassed) and then people see this behaviour and don’t understand it’s illegals who are doing this and not the locals who have nothing to do with this. So many news stories of European citizens raped, murdered by illegals and asylum seekers. We need to stop this asylum migration policy. End it. Replace it with a European Green Card for those who have skills we can use.

    I was reading about Chinese factories moving to Africa because wages in African countries are about 25% less than in China, this is what Europe needs for Africa, put the factories in Africa, put these people to work, let them become middle class consumers who in turn buy European products and do vacation in Europe, spend money and go back home just as any westerners. Also if the factories are closer to the European and African consumers then the transport costs and environmental pollution go down. A win win. Illegal migration is not a win win, illegal migration is destruction of harmony.
    I really wish we could do a real world experiment of millions of Europeans traveling to Africa by boat right now illegally just to see how Africans will react when this happens to them and not just the nice Europeans I’m talking convicts from prison, sex offenders, drug dealers, violent criminals the kind of people that cause real trouble. How would Africans react to being confronted with something like this?

  11. avatar
    EU Reform- Proactive

    Fine, Maria Serrano is a Senior Campaigner of Migration at London-based NGO Amnesty International- apparently “funded” by its seven million members and supporters. But not without criticism!


    To take NGO’s (e.g AI) reports as unquestionable and unbiased truth is as unwise and naive as to believe everything EU officials like JCJ & Co say. Both are guilty of “selection bias”- even lying.

    The gross dysfunctions of & in most African Governments are subject to serious HR violations, fraud, criminality & need to be taken seriously under a microscope- if the international community wants Africa to improve & Africa “allows” such “internal interference”. Probably not!

    It is these ruthless, brutal, smooth and utmost corrupt politicians who cause massive mayhem in Africa. It is them who should be incarcerated behind high fences until sanity, professionalism & ethics return to their style of “African governance”.

    Please do not frustrate & burden us with another political failure by others occurring far beyond our borders!

    Who is the “European peoples truth commissioner” to expose bias & political malpractices perpetrated by all politicians & NGO’s?

  12. avatar

    No.It is necessary to understand the reasons for migration from Africa.People flee theircountries because theitleaders ahve sold outto China and now Chiness immigrants are taking over African countries as they once did in Tibet.Meanwhile the African leaders sign secret deals for untold billions with China and are then end up indebted and unable to stop the Chinese government taking over their countries.

    • avatar
      catherine benning


      It is not at all necessary to understand any illegal migrant coming into our country via any border they pass or from any country they left.

      If they don’t like their country of origin and what it offers, then they are obligated to deal with that in the same way they are ready to act illegally to get here.

      Africa has been sold out repeatedly over centuries so their leaders and chiefs can become world rich. So have ours sold us out over centuries. They sold us all down the river repeatedly one way and another. And are the cause of this mayhem we are having to endure today. These people fleeing to our European countries are useless to us. What are they here for? We don’t want them here. The only people getting anything out of this crazy situation are the leaders forcing them on to our tax payers to support and feed. Whilst, once the invader settles here, into our social housing, schools, health care facilities, welfare benefits, education and so on, all paid for by us, for our benefit not theirs, they then turn the place here into the shit holes they left. They are not suited to our lifestyle or culture, They are, in the main, irresponsible, vicious murdering lay abouts and no wonder their own homeland is repugnant, they made it that way. Then want to come here and live on our hard work, whilst they destroy all we stand for, detest our heritage and civilisation for the lifestyle it gives us and they don’t want to fight for themselves. They do not and cannot connect to it psychologically. And they don’t want to. Instead they want to reduce us to the level they themselves are connected to.

      If China takes them over, so what? Their own leaders are inept buffoons. And what is Africa and African way of life to do with our towns and cities? Likewise, all others who come here to devastate our civilisation. You want us to stand back like sitting ducks and let them do it? You have to be out of your tree if you think we will allow ourselves to lay down and die without lifting a finger. In fact, a finger should have been lifted a long time ago, and pointed at those who set this up. That is where the blame lies. Right in our own back yard, with people brain washing our gullible the way you have been. Time we put out the lights and turned off the music. As, if we continue to dance, there will be nothing to save when the floor falls in.


      They came from devastation to bring their living hell here with them. They create what they left behind and will force it on to us against our will. So, it is unnecessary to understand any of them, it is those who come here who must understand that we, the natives of Europe, don’t want what they bring.

    • avatar

      Erika I am not up to date with Chinese immigration into Africa but, China is investing huge sums into African countries, especially agriculture. Presumably to feed China. However, this has also created a lot of viable jobs locally and many African countries see it as a lifeline to prosperity.

    • avatar

      Nina, wish you were right with this but if you watch the video I posted then you will see how it really works. In particular Chinese immigrants moving in and taking over all kinds of sources of income

    • avatar

      Chinesis coming now.. before Africa suffer for colonisation from European , and still are suffering bcs the fake post-colonialism… slaves anyway.. story is long and hard. Apologize bcs my poor english language

    • avatar

      Yes,you are right,story is long and hard.Your english language is ok.I apologize for colonisation from europe and fake post colonialism.Even I was not there.Maybe China is better but I doubt it .Africa needs peace and reliable leaders.Still crying for Mandela

    • avatar


      With the new relationship between Russia and Turkey & the imminent collapse of the South African Socialist economy you are about to find out.

      Enjoy 8|

    • avatar

      Erika You are apologising for something you had no part in ? ! What ??? lol

    • avatar

      Ivan,yeah ok…

  13. avatar

    It’s amazing how we are constantly asked to worry and care about if who try to cross illegally the border is faced with too much violence (well, maybe because they’re not collaborative? Police kick my ass as well if I resist to the arrest while breaking a law despite being european, Caucasian and with lentigo-skin type), but at the same time we are asked to ignore how much violence those illegal migrants bring to Europe and pretend they’re poor gentlemen abused by the bad Europeans.
    It’s interesting how we are asked to don’t talk about migrant violence, but we are constantly asked to blame the police to use the force in order to protect our citizens.
    It’s also interesting how migrants are always painted like pacific and totally polite people who where violently and brutally attacked by our police while quietly and respectfully cross the border and don’t resist to police….unfortunately it sounds not realistic at all.
    Even more interesting is that constant call to their human right, but when women ask respect for their human rights calling for a strong obligation to integration to stop violence and harassment it’s again more important the “human right” of migrants to keep they’re misogynist rapeculture than our human right to be not raped or harassed or treat like inferiors than men…and if we not accept it, well, then we are racist as we are called every time we refuse an avance of those foreign gentlemen or that we defend ourselves in case of direct abuse.

  14. avatar

    I can tell you from actual experience that the right kind of strongly policed walls can act as effective barriers.
    In the early seventies fresh out of university I visited Berlin and saw at first hand how a wall can successfully stop the desperate population from escaping a poor and corrupt dictatorship, for the more richer freer nation on the other side.
    As a young ideological twenty two year old I thought it was appalling,now however having seen the chaos that this crazy open borders policy has caused i’m beginning to believe the continent was better then than it is now.

  15. avatar

    My dad dug a hole under a wall… And when he was caught he tied bedsheets together and abseiled five storeys, then walked 500 km home across the Alps.
    Nothing will stop those that are determined enough….

  16. avatar

    Even if you build in high closed to heaven, we must still enter Spain through black magic until you grant us freedom in Africa. We need electricity and road and come to Nigeria and arrest the bad government that we have then we will stop coming… We need peace in Africa

    • avatar


    • avatar
      catherine benning


      It is you and your people who must grant freedom to their people in Africa. Look at your leaders and find out why they sell you endlessly down the river. If that is what they are doing.

      If you need electricity, sewage, health care and all you see here in Europe, you must do what we in Europe did, fight for it. Work to build it and live by the standard you think we have by black magic. It is nothing to do with magic. It is work, pure and simple, either physical or mental.

      Europe owes you nothing. If you think it does, why do you think that? We colonised parts of the world and gave them a lesson in evolution, you let it slip through your fingers by rejecting what it takes to get the lifestyle and respect you feel you deserve.

      Get new leaders, rebuild you food base, and read how it was done in Europe. Destroying what you see and want in our part of the world will not give you any of it. You will only corrupt and remove that ideal from the face of the earth with your tactics of destruction.


      And Africa is rich. Much richer than many European States.


      Ask these African States to make their wealth yours. That is where you will create the solace you seek.

      You are very intelligent people. You know how to cheat far better than any we in Europe, and that takes a brain better than we have. The problem with Africa is, it wants to take what it covets from others without the effort needed to create it at home. And that isn’t going to happen. You have been lied to if you believe otherwise. Ask yourself this, why have your people been willing to accept the betrayal of your leaders so willingly? Read up on your history. The reality, not the play about with the mind bull those with an agenda are selling. And there find the answers to your political dilemma. Then work with the same political suffrage we have here in Europe. That way you will create your own Europe right there in beautiful Africa rather than destroy what you have been given by nature use it to your advantage.

  17. avatar

    Walls don’t solve; they come crambling down, one way or another. Also, people who are commenting, please keep in mind you’re talking about people, not water or rocks. Actual human beings.

    • avatar

      Yes,human beings :(

  18. avatar

    refugees is a thing, illegal economic migrants is another one. why this page always mix things together? it’s like equiparing the rapist and the victim..

  19. avatar

    Don’t forget is not only Africans that are coming through the sea.. Why is everyone eyes are on Africans only?.. We have Bangladesh.. Why always Africa

    • avatar

      The Mediterranean? Because Africa is on the other side?

    • avatar

      Josh what side are you talking about about?.. Are you white or what

    • avatar

      Simply because the whole of Africa is about to collapse and send a migrant wave to Europe larger than any in history.

  20. avatar

    Morally I don’t even see what is so bad about immigration. I am an immigrant and a European citizen, I hold an Australian as well as Irish passport. I even overstayed on my visa for 6 months on accident, I turned up to the police station to renew it – nobody cared. I fell on hard times around then too, we had to accept charity and welfare to stay in our house. Nobody came and said I was just some lazy immigrant for doing so. Nobody ever built a wall to keep me out.

    Is it because I’m middle class? Speak English? Am white? I conform to your prejudice of what is “European” despite being a naturalised citizen and not a born European?

    The issue here isn’t that immigrants are a problem, it’s the “wrong sort” of immigrants, who maybe have less money or a different skin colour. This is just xenophobia masquerading as law, and it’s pitiful. Everyone deserves as much leniency and benefit of the doubt as I got no matter where they’re from.

    • avatar

      Josh immigration is not exactly the problem but un-controlled and mass immigration is a problem..

    • avatar
      Paul X

      “Nobody came and said I was just some lazy immigrant for doing so. Nobody ever built a wall to keep me out…Is it because I’m middle class? Speak English? Am white?”

      Nope, it’s because you came here legally on a Visa

  21. avatar

    Let’s remember Europe was once a migrants in Africa and Africa didn’t treat you bad or been racist to you, why are you all not been good to Africa after you developed your countries with Africa resources now you don’t want Africa in your country, even if you close the sea and land Africa will found another way to enter because Africa is a mother to all nations.

    • avatar

      That is a very distorted view of history you have there & Africa is not the mother to all nations, it’s just ‘thought’ at the moment to have been ground zero.

  22. avatar

    walls can’t stop mass immigration since they come from the sea.
    We need deals with the Nothern African states in order these people to be stopped before they get in boats.

    • avatar

      Careful, you could be accused of being a colonialist by the barking mad left with such talk. 8|

  23. avatar

    Flooding can never be stopped by building dams. It needs an overall planning that cater all aspects leading to the flooding. What we have flooding of refugees, it is because big or local powers are struggling to control their government, their homeland and their resources. We have to admit also there are economic refugees. Is “beggar thy neighbor” a good and viable policy in this global era when national boundaries are increasingly unable to block the transmission of infectious diseases, air pollution, environmental degradation, drag and human trafficking, international terrorism, global warming,…

  24. avatar

    Building walls is absolutely ridiculous. What would you do if your home country was invaded by soldiers who kill your family, you don’t have resources for food, water, asylum… We need to take care of one another and building walls is what is wrong with humanity nowadays. People should care less about money and themselves and more about humanity, peace and kindness towards one another.

  25. avatar

    It appears that only thousands of years ago, people are using wall and fencing for protection. Building a wall is such an outdated and unrealistic imagination of old people like Trump, not applicable to this new global era. Why the US needs a wall? It is because US foreign policy does not build on creating co-prosperity but on a very unequal relationship with South American states basing on exploitation, suppression and disruption, etc. all for the unilateral growth and prosperity of the US. More even socioeconomic development and less disruption to sociopolitical system of neigbouring countries would largely discourage refugees.

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