Gibraltar, a port of clandestine emigration

Gibraltar, a port of clandestine emigration
Circa 1905. Gibraltar, wiew of the harbour. Source: Wikipedia

Gibraltar, a port of clandestine emigration

In 1909 Spain launched a military occupation of Morocco so as to guarantee exploitation of iron mines near Melilla. Many young people and their families emigrated to America to avoid taking part in the war which lasted until 1927. The Spanish Government tried to exert greater control over travel, using the shipping companies and passenger ports which were the main beneficiaries. Gibraltar was free of such regulations and became an important centre for clandestine emigration. As a result, La Línea also became an easy target for trafficking with women for prostitution; «a scandalous affair», as declared in 1917 the Masonic lodge of La Línea called Resurrection.

The main destination was Brazil, and to a lesser extent Argentina and Chile. Nicolás, Vicente Ricardo’s uncle, worked as a waiter in La Línea. When he received his call-up papers for military service, the war between Spain and Morocco was expanding. He left with Elena, his girlfriend, for Brazil on the first boat to dock at Gibraltar. In Brazil a train was waiting to take them to the facenda (hacienda), where they would have to work to pay for their voyage.

Families arriving in La Línea from other places had to find a way to survive without money or papers for days, weeks or months until their ship left. This was easier in La Línea. When their ship was ready to set sail, they had to get past the border guards to enter Gibraltar. If the wait lasted for months, they might have made new family bonds with the locals or achieved some stability, which would led them to stay in the cross-border area and put off their migration project.