Spanish-Moroccan borders upgraded with new cameras, facial recognition and a barbed wire 'swap'


The Spanish government is seeking a 50% reduction in illegal immigration and to achieve this goal is deploying new surveillance cameras and facial recognition technology at its borders with Morocco in Ceuta and Melilla. The Spanish government also plans to remove the barbed wire fences at those borders - but the Moroccan government is constructing its own.

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New surveillance technology

The Spanish interior ministry has updated the CCTV system at the border between the enclave of Ceuta and Morocco, replacing 52 cameras (mainly dating from the mid-90s) with 14 new ones, backed up by a new control system.

Facial recognition technology will also be deployed, not only at Ceuta's border with Morocco, but also at that with the enclave of Melilla. The stated objective is to reduce the time taken to conduct border checks and to increase security at crossings used by thousands of people daily.

It is not clear how exactly the facial recognition system will be used - for example, while the technology could be used to compare an individual's face against the image stored in their passport (a 'one-to-one' match), it may also be possible to scan faces in a crowd against police databases.

Barbed wire: out and in

In the summer of 2018 the announcement from the Spanish interior ministry that the barbed wire between Spain's enclaves and Morocco would be removed was welcomed by many as a positive development.

However, on the other side of the border, Morocco is installing its own barbed wire fencing, which according to El Confidencial has its origins in an agreement between the EU and Morocco through which Brussels will provide €140 million for migration control.

The Spanish government has denied any relationship between the developments, but it plans to wait until the Moroccan fence is installed before removing its own - it is "a question of borders and borders are between two countries," said Fernando Grande-Marlaska, the interior minister, in June.

It is not clear from where Morocco has purchased the new fencing, which is made up of two-metre-high layers of barbed wire stacked on top of one another and surrounds the eight kilometres of wall surrounding Ceuta.

However, the Malaga-based European Security Fencing would be an obvious choice - as well as being the supplier of the fence Spain now plans to remove, it has supplied its galvanised steel, razor-tipped products to Hungary, Denmark and is expanding into the Arabian Gulf.

Secret agreements

The push for new border control measures between Spain and Morocco does not only involve infrastructure - the two countries signed bilateral agreements on the control and return of irregular migrants in February this year.

The Andalusian Association for Human Rights (APDHA) requested access to them from the European Commission, which refused, arguing that "the guarantee of confidentiality is essential for the complex operation to succeed, the objective of which is to guarantee the interests and values of the EU".

Intensive training has also been provided to Moroccan military, and the EU has equipped the state with search and rescue equipment. On top of the 140 million given by the EU to Morocco to "combat illegal immigration" Spain is the state's third largest foreign investor, with the Morocco-Spain Economic Forum held to encourage partnership and investment projects. These collaborative measures share the objectives of ensuring the control, detention and return of people trying to make irregular border crossings.

At the start of March this year, Grande-Marlaska credited cooperation between Spain, the EU and Morocco as a fundamental factor in the reduction in recorded entries to Spain, where 10,475 people had arrived by boat by July this year, compared to 14,426 in the same period of 2018.

Further reading

"Migration control, not rescue": squeezing search and rescue in the Mediterranean

Human rights violations at Spain's southern border: steps towards restoring legality (pdf)


APDHA e Irídia, dos organizaciones de derechos humanos denuncian que la nueva estrategia de rescate en el mar del Gobierno español provoca más muertes, APDHA, 26 June 2019

Frontera de Ceuta con Marruecos: cámaras, reconocimiento facial y sin concertinas, El Confidencial, 9 June 2019

El Gobierno niega su relación con la valla de cuchillas construida por Marruecos para reforzar la frontera de Ceuta,, 6 June 2019

Málaga fabrica las concertinas de Europa: ¿Se acaba un negocio de 6 millones al año?, El Confidencial, 17 June 2018

Morocco: A Gateway for Investment Between Europe and Africa, Morocco World News, 3 July 2019

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