We begin with border battles. In the fiscal year that just ended, more than 800,000 people tried to illegally enter the United States. Controlling the border is a defining issue for President Trump and a big part in the election debate. But America isn't the only place with a border battle. There’s been a mass influx into Europe from troubled nations in the Mideast and Africa. Scott Thuman went to Morocco in North Africa and found a place where Europe's border challenge is uniquely challenging.
With Mediterranean waves lapping the shore, this scenic slice of land has become a major draw, but for reasons well beyond the sand and sun. That’s because it’s one of those rare spots in the world, where you can cross from Africa into Europe, by simply, walking. Here in Morocco, all that separates the two sides are these two twenty-foot high fences. For hundreds of years, the city of Ceuta has been controlled by Spain, that makes this enclave and another just like it further down the coast, part of the vast European Union, even though geographically they're on African soil. For us, a brief stroll and passport check gets us across, from Morocco into Ceuta, Spain. For migrants, the millions in Africa who live in poverty or who are engulfed in any of a half dozen tragic conflicts raging across the continent, this place offers an escape, a chance to leave that all behind. But being a gateway to Europe also provides an opportunity for those people Europe most wants to keep out. Like the attackers from Morocco who hit Paris in November 2013 and others who took part in attacks in Belgium, Spain, and London.
Khiame: The Moroccan security service has a proactive approach to stop people who hold jihadist beliefs.
At the highly guarded compound for Morocco’s equivalent of the FBI, Abdelhak Khiame, oversees one of the world’s best-regarded anti-terror agencies.
Scott: Just the first half of this year you’ve broken up 10 terror cells here in Morocco. Is your work here prevent terror attacks in other countries as well, is it making other countries including America safer?”
Khiame: The fight against terrorism is not something that’s done by just one single country or another; it’s something which is done by the whole world. Terrorism is a plague which threatens humanity; the existence of humanity on earth, and that necessitates coordination between every country, Scott: Inside the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, it didn’t take long to meet our first illegal immigrant. 16 Year old Sekou and his friends trekked thousands of miles across Africa before sneaking in without permission. Did you know you’d see the big fences and walls, did you know what you’re going to have to get through?
Scott: So what did you think when you saw all the fences?
Sekou: My imagination, was like, a new world!
Sekou says he came to Europe for economic reasons, for him, getting across the border meant inside the dashboard of a car. Sometimes that tactic goes horribly wrong when vehicles are forced to wait hours in the hot sun before they can pass. Some never make it, even if they pay a smuggler. You didn’t think it’d be difficult. You knew if you paid you could get in. Even though there were all those soldiers and fences you knew you could get in?
Sekou: Yes, yes.
Another dangerous but increasingly popular tactic: mass groups storming the fence, usually under the cover of darkness, sometimes, turning violent. Spanish border guards try to stop them but many get through. By mid-summer this year, at least 10-thousand Africans made it past the fence lines and into Spanish territory. The Moroccans are also trying to secure the border from their side. Khalid Zourali is in charge of borders and migration tasked with stopping illegal entry into the two Spanish enclaves. Those two locations in some ways are magnets.
Scott: And you have a difficult challenge of trying to manage who gets across.
Zerouali: Jumping the fence never goes by peacefully. It's always an attack conducted by 800 or 1,000 migrants under the control of criminal groups. So it will be more as a violent action and not a migration, peaceful passage.
It’s not completely different from what America sees at its southern border. And in both places, there are worries over who’s getting past the defenses, and if they have dangerous intentions.
Zerouali: Border control is the most important element, maybe in our security doctrine because of the risk of having foreign fighters, terrorists coming into the country. To prevent other dangerous elements to enter the country.
So it should come as no surprise that on the very day we were here so was a delegation from the US, meeting with Moroccan intelligence officials and trading notes on the most successful tactics for tracking down terrorists.
The U.S., is also sharing, and selling, a lot. The Pentagon just sold billions of dollars of military equipment to the kingdom with investment at the borders too. In this northern Moroccan port, the largest in all of Africa, we saw American technology put to use. These massive scanners are taking x-rays of trucks leaving Africa and heading to Europe. Guards look for everything from stowaways, to smuggled guns, and drugs. They find, plenty. On this day they show us two men who were trying to get to Europe with false id’s. So these are fake visas, fake visas. So the real person in these papers is actually supposed to be from France?
Scott: So he used a photo that’s similar to his, and then he comes in but he’s not from France. Does it happen often?
Official: Always. Every day.
Scott: Every day,
Official: every day.
Back in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, more migrants who’ve successfully made it across the fence. Again, like in America, they wait in a facility, unsure of their fate. The lucky ones will be transferred to mainland Europe to formally make asylum claims. Most will eventually be turned down. This man says he went through four African countries to get to this point. How long did it take you to get here?
Man: 4 months.
Scott: 4 months it took you to get here?
Scott: How much did you have to pay?
Man: no, no, no talk.
Scott: Why do you want to leave Guinea, it’s dangerous?
Man: It’s dangerous. The bad government, in Guinea.
So whether in northern Africa or the southern U.S., what’s happening here is more evidence: the desire for a safer life, or just a better one, is a powerful motivator, and no border is one hundred percent secure.
They've cut the number of migrants making to mainland Spain in half this year, but that doesn't mean there aren't still major attempts to cross. Just a few weeks ago, 150 migrants stormed into Ceuta in one night - that's the largest breach of the fence this year. They're now talking about making the fence taller. Remember, it's already 20 feet. Just for reference, President Trump's model for the new US border wall is 30 feet.