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Day 99: Ceuta to Gibraltar

Michael Palin - SaharaIn the gardens of this quiet square, sitting on the grass or pacing the neat hedge-lined paths that radiate from the monument, are a number of young men. All Africans, they range from tall loose-limbed Blacks to paler Arabs, some in Western dress and others in flowing robes. They look like me; a little awkward, strangers in a foreign land.

I ask one of them where he's from. His English is not so good, and he prefers to talk in French. He's from Mali, on the other side of the Sahara, and has made his way here to try to find work in Spain and once in Spain, any of the European Union countries. He points out an Algerian, a group of Mauritanians. They're here to pick up scraps of information, about who's going where and how, about deals, about boats crossing the Strait, about how they can take the final step on their long journeys. They've come to the Plaza de Africa because they want to get out of Africa.

I ask how they survive in Ceuta. Most of them, it turns out, are in a holding centre run by the Spanish authorities on behalf of the European Union, where they are given food and accommodation until they can be found work in Europe.

Later in the day we visit the centre, a bright, freshly painted, concrete encampment up in the hills, surrounded by a grove of mournfully swaying eucalyptus trees. Here in the Centro de Estancia Temporal de Imigrantes are gathered 335 men, 42 women and 13 children, waiting for permits and, in some cases, asylum papers to enable them to get work 'up in the Peninsula', as they call Spain and Portugal.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 99
  • Country/sea: Spain
  • Place: Ceuta
  • Book page no: 252

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