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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 14:53 GMT
The rocky road to Spain
An ice-cream van beside the queue to cross the border
Ice-cream vendors make the most of the long wait
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Inside Gibraltar Catherine Miller

By BBC News Online's Catherine Miller

An off-duty police officer and his family sit in one of the hundred or so cars waiting on the Gibraltar side of the border on a sunny afternoon.

They're making queues just for the sake of it

Johannes Macintosh
Waiting in line
They had put off their planned trip in the morning after calling ahead to find that there were delays up to two hours long, twice the average wait.

Their daughter plays ball on the pavement beside the car to while away the time.

Although it is only mid-March, the heat in the cars is stifling and a nearby ice-cream van is doing good trade.

Political queues

Queues build up quickly here.

Complaint signs at the border
Signs tell travellers to complain about the Spanish
Every day, about 3,000 workers cross the border to work in Gibraltar. They are joined by tourists, some four million a year, and a regular stream of local Andalucians, who come for the cheap petrol, cigarettes and groceries which Gibraltar's VAT-free status provides.

The Spanish guards need only stop one vehicle to create a massive tailback.

The Spanish have the right to stop and search cars, as Gibraltar is not part of the Schengen open border agreement, but it is the way in which such searches are carried out that locals object to.

"If they stop you and they want to search you they'll stop you in front of everybody and everybody behind has to wait," said Johannes Macintosh, also in the queue.

"They won't even put you to the side and search your car," he complained. "They're making queues just for the sake of it."

He is married to a Spanish national and his father has a house in Spain so he is a regular at the border.

The consensus among those in the queue is that the delays are political - directly linked to the state of play in Spain's bid to realise its centuries old claim to sovereignty over the Rock.

"It depends sometimes on the headlines in the news," says one elderly Gibraltarian.

"If there's talks between one party and another that affects things."


But Gibraltar's Government also uses the border to make its political point.

Queue to enter Gibraltar
The queue on the Spanish side is even longer
Large signs declare that: "Gibraltar regrets the inconvenience caused to you by the Spanish authorities contrary to your European rights to free movement."

They direct disgruntled travellers to a Complaints Office where they can immediately pass the message on to the European Union or their own government.

"It is the Foreign Office which allows the queue," says the police officer,. who does not want to be named.

"They sent the navy half way round the world for the Falklands but they can't sort out the queue here."

But his wife maintains she would rather wait under a British flag than have free movement under a Spanish one.

On the Spanish side, the queue is even worse, snaking far around the bay.

Gibraltarians have been celebrating Commonwealth day, a public holiday on the Rock, and are coming home after a long weekend spent in the shops, bars and restaurants of the Costa del Sol.

"We normally go out for the change, really," says a pensioner returning by foot to Gibraltar.

"I'm cooped up all week and on days off, we go over and we have a meal or whatever - that's my outing."

He had given up on the queues earlier in the day and decided to leave his car behind, walk across the border and take a taxi instead.

If they didn't want sovereignty there wouldn't be a problem, we would get on together

Gibraltar resident
Gibraltarians have, in general, little hostility towards their neighbours on a personal level.

Many have families on the Spanish side of the border and most enjoy the food and lifestyle they find there.

Though Gibraltarians are bilingual, Spanish is the language of preference, used at home and among friends.

"If they didn't want sovereignty there wouldn't be a problem, we would get on together," says a woman of mixed English and Gibraltarian parentage, also returning from a day out in Spain.

"They just want to impose their will on us. They want us to be Spanish, we don't want to be Spanish."

Back in Gibraltar, with the border just a few metres behind them, there is another delay for those returning to town.

Traffic stops at a level crossing as the road turns into an airstrip, allowing an RAF plane to make the hair-raising swoop in from the sea.

It is another reminder of the precariousness of life on this barren lump of limestone jutting out into the Mediterranean, and with what determination its people cling to it.

This is the first of a series of reports from Gibraltar, as Spain and the UK attempt to end a longstanding dispute over the British dependency's status.

  Click here for Growing up on the Rock

  Click here for Gibraltar's best friend in Spain

See also:

22 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Gibraltar row rumbles on
11 Feb 02 | UK Politics
'Gibraltar wants to remain British'
06 Feb 02 | England
Scramble for Rock votes
05 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Straw accused of Gibraltar betrayal
04 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Gibraltar talks 'still on course'
15 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Dispute continues on Gibraltar talks
12 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Officials dismiss Gibraltar 'deal'
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