Territorial disputes: Africa (Part 19) [Post 154]

The posts this week are introducing TERRITORIAL DISPUTES in Africa that have non-regional participants. We started with the French spread in the continents. We turn the attention to Spain now.


Islas Chafarinas (Chafarinas Islands)

The Chafarinas Islands consist of three small islets in the Alboran Sea, 3.3 kilometres from the Moroccan coastline and 45 kilometres to the east of Melilla. The three islets, Isla del Congreso, Isla de Isabel II and Isla del Rey, cover a total land area of 0.525 square kilometres. There is a small Spanish garrison stationed on Isabel II. Spain occupied the Charfarinas Islands in 1848, a few hours before a French expedition was due to land there. Spain considers that the islands were terrae nullius prior to their occupation.


The latest addition to the “system” of North African enclaves was the Chafarinas Islands (1848), which, like the other minor presidios, served as a military stronghold and place of confinement, while both the garrison and the penal detachment were set up on Isabel II Island. In addition to military men and prisoners, the various public works undertaken in Chafarinas attracted civilians, fishermen and traders.


The garrisons apparently are maintained as a matter of principle. The origins of Spanish sovereignty on Velez and Alhucemas date back to before the 1700’s. Chafarinas became Spanish Juring the 1800’s. If they were relinquished, a domino effect might be anticipated by the Spaniards with regard to Ceuta and Melilla. Therefore, at cost and inconvenience, the island enclaves are maintained.


In addition to the Spanish autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla, and the smaller presidios (Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera, Islas de Alhucemas, and Islas de Chafarinas), Spain continues to have educational and economic presence in North Africa, especially in northern Morocco. There are eleven Spanish educational centers in Morocco where 350 teachers instruct some 5000 students, according to the Spanish official curriculum, including an elementary school in El Aaiún in the Sahara. Nearly 75 percent of the students in these Spanish centers are Moroccan and students have access to Spanish universities for higher education (Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores 2015).


The total area of the enclaves is 14 square miles. By comparison, Gibraltar is only 2.4 square miles. Ceuta is about nine square miles. Melilla is four square miles. The others are less than one square mile total.

Chafarinas is the most populous enclave by far, exceeding 700 as opposed to approximately 400 in the others.

The Chafarinas Islands are the farthest enclave from the Spanish mainland at a distance of 90 nautical miles. A comparative distance is from San Francisco to Point Sur, Los Angeles to San Diego, or Baltimore to Philadelphia.


An Evaluation of Morocco’s Claim to Spain’s Remaining Territories in Africa


Morocco’s International Boundaries


Spain’s Colonial Language Policies in Northern Africa


Spain and Morocco: the Spanish Enclaves in North Africa


Boundaries in Time and Space: Spanish “Minor Sovereign Terirtories”


Jorge Emilio Núñez

Twitter: @London1701
25th October 2018

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