Holding pattern | Immigrants in Spanish enclave turn to fútbol

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Recently arrived immigrants play outside the holding center in Melilla on 15 Oct 2005. (Alvaro Barrientos | AP)

Melilla, Spain | For a taste of the familiar after months-long journeys by land and sea, football has much to offer hundreds of displaced Africans. Recently the CETI Club de Fútbol started to compete in a 10-team city league in this Spanish enclave on the coast of northern Morocco.

CETI stands for Centro de Estancia Temporal de Inmigrantes, the holding facility for the undocumented migrants who frantically scaled a 3-meter fence last year to gain entry. Eleven died in Melilla and Ceuta, another enclave further west, as the result of clashes with security forces. Although Morocco claims ownership of Melilla, it has remained in Spanish hands for more than 500 years and remains the only piece of Europe sharing a land border with Africa. Writes Paqui Sanchez for the Associated Press:

Soccer is a way to have fun and kill time as they try to obtain work and residency papers, which for many is probably a hopeless mission. … “Although they don’t have the discipline and professionalism needed to play soccer today, they have more than enough fight and commitment,” said Juan Carlos Redondo, the CETI coach.

The idea of incorporating members of the CETI community, with Guinea Bissau, Cameroon, Algeria, Mali, India and Nigeria among the nations represented, comes from the Melilla football federation. Instead of spending time doing menial jobs or in idleness, the players gain purpose and can apply the dedication that enabled them to endure long separations from family and excruciating journeys across the Sahara. Some arrivals in Ceuta even swam from the African mainland to reach the Spanish-controlled waterfront.

Now that the desert routes are thoroughly policed, the preferred route to the European Union, although perhaps more treacherous, is from Mauritania to the Canary Islands, several hundred miles in wooden fishing canoes. More than 1,000 have died over the past four months while trying to make the crossing.


Links: Inverness-born writer Ali Smith reports for the Sunday Times Magazine (U.K.) on the limbo facing these migrants seeking refuge in Ceuta and Melilla. A driver with the Nobel Prize–winning Medicins sans frontieres takes Smith to the infamous Ceuta fence, “literally layers of fence, fences that rise up out of the sea to a height of three metres, hairy with barbed wire.”

[The driver takes] us to see the border. He takes us past the impenetrable-looking forest where the largest camp was, before the rush on the wall and before the police slashed the tents, burnt the blankets, bullied the immigrants, confiscated all the mobiles. A thousand people lived here in what was pretty much a township with its own restaurant, law system and 4pm daily football matches in its own “stadium”. Now it’s a wreck of rubbish, but still the only shelter for a couple of hundred people who spend their day avoiding the security patrols, in the cold crags of a nearby mountain they’ve named Tranquilos (Peace), only descending at night.

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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