Melilla and Nador over time: Cross-border networking

In the 20th century, above all, the protectorate shaped Spanish-Moroccan relations. Spanish colonial policy and Morocco’s economic dependence reinforced the close interconnectedness between Spain and Morocco and thus between Africa and Europe. This is particularly evident in the borderlands of Melilla and Nador in the Rif region. During this period, cross-border exchanges increased. The Spaniards were dependent on the supply of food, firewood and building materials from the surrounding countryside, while the Rif population, who lived from agriculture, used this new market to supplement their meager incomes. More and more Spaniards settled in Morocco for job opportunities, while some Moroccans moved to Melilla and the Iberian Peninsula. It is not only the architecture that shows the historical imprint on both sides. Spanish is still a language spoken by many Riffians.

After Moroccan independence in 1956, there was a lively trade between Spanish-occupied Melilla and the Moroccan countryside. To this day, educational opportunities and medical services are also used on both sides of the border. Over time, close family ties developed across the border.

This intensive exchange between the neighbouring provinces of Nador in Morocco and Melilla in Spain was confirmed in an annex to the Schengen Agreement in 1990. This allows residents of both cities to move freely within the border areas, even though they are formally separated by the continental border between Morocco and an EU country. Today, however, this agreement is often ignored in practice by European border officials and Moroccans are denied entry to Melilla. This leads to problems in everyday life for many.

"As a child, I used to go back and forth between Melilla and Morocco without thinking about it. Later it became different because I needed both cities. Here in Melilla I have my routine because I have to work, and in my free time I go to Morocco because it's my lifelong home, because my parents, my ancestors are from there, or because I have something to do there. You can't be in one city and not in the other."

Rachid O.
Waiter commuting between Melilla and Nador, 2019