spanish enclave on morocco's northeast coast.
One of Spain's two remaining footholds on the African continent, the enclave of Mellila occupies approximately 7 square miles on the Guelaia Peninsula, near the city of Nador on Morocco's northeast Mediterranean coast. In addition to the town, there are also two groups of adjacent islands. A majority of the population of 69,000 are ethnically Spanish and Catholic; a substantial minority—about 40 percent—are Berber Muslims, most of whom have Spanish citizenship. In recent years, Melilla, like its companion Spanish enclave Ceuta, has attracted both Moroccans and black Africans seeking to immigrate illegally into Europe.
Founded by the Phoenecians in the third century b.c.e., Melilla was occupied by Spain in 1497, one of several presidios established to protect the Spanish mainland. More territory was added to it after the 1860 war, and in 1861 it was made a free port. Morocco has never ceased to insist on the return of Melilla and Ceuta, but the two countries agreed in 1976 to shelve the dispute as part of their agreement on Western Sahara. In the mid-1990s, as Moroccan political life slowly revived, the status of Mellila and Ceuta became a prime national issue for the country's political parties. The Spanish parliament's approval of statutes of autonomy for the two enclaves in 1995 irked the Moroccans considerably.
The five hundredth anniversary of Spain's control of Melilla was marked in September 1997 in a low-key manner, as Muslim residents complained of socioeconomic difficulties and discrimination. One outcome of the difficulties was the election of a Muslim mayor in 1999. While Morocco's prime minister Abderrahmane Youssoufi suggested in 1999 that Macao and Hong Kong could serve as possible models for a resolution of the dispute, Spain reiterated that no foreign sovereignty claims would be considered, and Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar visited Melilla and Ceuta in January 2000, stressing the "Spanishness" of the two cities. By the end of the century, both cities had become jumping-off points for illegal immigration into Europe and for smugglers of European goods, with potential immigrants from all over the African continent seeking entry. Morocco's assertion of authority over an unoccupied rock outcropping off the Moroccan coast in the summer of 2002 nearly boiled over into an international crisis, as Spain treated it as a Moroccan test of its intentions. Spanish troops evicted the small Moroccan contingent, the status quo was restored, and Spain reinforced its presence in both Melilla and Ceuta and tightened its borders. Moroccans from the neighboring areas are allowed into the towns for work.
see also ceuta; morocco; spain and the middle east; spanish morocco.
Gold, Peter. Europe or Africa? A Contemporary Study of the Spanish North African Enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. Liverpool, U.K.: Liverpool University Press, 2000.