Two men are undertaking a 2,300-kilometre cycling trip from Ceuta to Brussels to call on the European Union to welcome and integrate migrants and refugees. David Saiz, 41, from Spain, and Loumkoua Soulong, 24, from Cameroon, began their journey on July 29, departing from Tarajal at the border between Morocco and Ceuta, the Spanish enclave in North Africa, stopping in Madrid on Sunday at the centrally located Puerta del Sol plaza.
From the border to the heart
Riding with the slogan 'De la frontera al corazon' (from the border to the heart), the duo plans to complete their itinerary in a month, reaching the Belgian capital on August 30 to deliver a manifesto to the EU in defence of human rights, calling for "welcoming those who are fleeing war and extreme poverty". Saiz and Soulong are friends, both members of "Elin", a volunteer association for migrant assistance, which has been operating in Ceuta since 1999.
They decided to use their summer holidays to undertake an adventure with the aim of raising awareness among the European public, which surveys show is increasingly opposed to welcoming migrants and refugees who are fleeing war and hunger. Saiz is a philosophy professor from the Spanish city of Burgos; Soulong is originally from Moutourwa in Cameroon and works for the "Jesus Maestro" school, part of the Teresa Schools Foundation in Madrid.
'Exhausting' initial leg of the journey
They reached Ceuta from Madrid with an itinerary that passed through the port city of Algeciras, the Sierra Morena mountain range, and the mountaintop city of Ronda, one of Andalusia's "pueblos blancos", which in recent days has reached temperatures of over 40 degrees Celcius. "It was exhausting," Saiz said upon arriving at Puerta del Sol in the Spanish capital, adding however that "hospitality from people along the route has been incredible".
Many people who are following the men's journey through Facebook and Instagram have offered them assistance and lodging. Soulong arrived in Spain from Cameroon three years ago with the dream of going to college. He crossed into Spanish territory after having illegally climbed the border wall at Ceuta to cross into Spanish territory, and with this journey he wants to show by example that integration is possible."I integrated into Spanish society, which is very different than that of Cameroon, because people helped me to understand that I wasn't so different after all," he said."There's no need to be afraid of strangers". Saiz and Soulong are calling for a society that's "more open to hospitality" because "there's more that unites us than that which divides us".
It's essential to break barriers, not only external ones but also internal ones, by opening your heart to others. Friendship between people from different culturesand nationalities is possible,
Increasingly restrictive European migration policies
Both are asking Europe for more solidarity. "Ceuta is one of the examples of the current management model of the southern European border," they said. "Its wall is the European answer to the people who leave their homes in search of a dignified life. And Brussels, from the heart of Europe, legitimizes and facilitates these policies, which are increasingly more restrictive and less welcoming," they said.
A campaign called "Hospitality" has formed around the two friends, and includes the support of the associations Elin, Karibu, Teresa Schools Foundation, Red Incala, Hesuitas Social, Servicio Gesuita a Migrantes, Alboan, Entreculturas, and Amycos.The campaign has raised funds for organizations that work for migrant integration.