In the past two days, more than 8,000 people entered the Spanish city of Ceuta from Morocco, an unprecedented flow, most of whom swim across the breakwaters to reach the Spanish enclave in North Africa.
This Wednesday, the Moroccan authorities in the northern town of Castillejos (Fnideq) closed the accesses to Ceuta and put an end to the massive avalanches of emigrants; Of the more than 8,000 migrants who entered the Spanish city, some 5,600 have already been returned to their country.
This migratory rebound occurs at a time of serious socio-economic crisis that the Castillejos area and neighboring towns are experiencing due to the abrupt end of merchandise smuggling in October 2019 and the closure of the land border since March 2020 as a preventive measure against the spread of the coronavirus.
WHAT IS CEUTA AND WHERE IS IT?
Ceuta is a coastal city in North Africa that has belonged to Spain since the 16th century. Like Melilla, another Spanish possession on the Moroccan coast, Ceuta has in recent decades become a port of entry to Europe for Moroccan and sub-Saharan migrants. In 2020, 2,200 people climbed the border fences of Ceuta and Melilla or swam across from Morocco. Ceuta has 85,000 inhabitants and is connected to mainland Spain by ferries that cross the Strait of Gibraltar.
WHAT IS HAPPENING IN CEUTA?
It is common for small numbers of migrants to make it across the border, but the magnitude of the recent crossings was somewhat exceptional. Thousands of people were able to reach the border area without first being stopped by the Moroccan authorities. Some 8,000 – including 2,000 possible minors – arrived in Ceuta in recent days by swimming or in small boats dodging the breakwaters between the two countries. On Tuesday, Spain sent troops and armored vehicles to the border, cornered migrants on a beach and forced many back through a gate in the border fence. A young man drowned and dozens of people suffered hypothermia, according to the Red Cross.
Randy Serrano has the information.
WHAT IS THE MIGRATORY WAVE TOWARDS CEUTA?
Morocco has barely spoken about why it eased border controls. Many suspect it is retaliation against Spain for allowing a militia leader, Brahim Ghali, to receive treatment in a Spanish hospital. Ghali leads the Polisario Front, which is fighting for the independence of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony annexed by Morocco in the 1970s.
In April, he was hospitalized in the Spanish city of Logroño and the Moroccan government, furious, warned that the event would have “consequences.” Some experts say the issue transcends Ghali and that Rabat wants Spain to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara, just as the United States did during the presidency of Donald Trump.
WHAT HAPPENS TO THE MIGRANTS WHO ARRIVE IN CEUTA?
An agreement between the two countries dating back 30 years allows Spanish authorities to immediately expel adults who cross irregularly. On Tuesday, Spanish soldiers were seen guiding migrants to a gate at the border fence, in some cases rushing them with blows.
The Spanish government assures that it has not expelled unaccompanied minors, many of whom are in quarantine in shelters run by the Red Cross.
WHAT ARE THE MAJOR IMPLICATIONS FOR SPAIN?
The events in Ceuta have caused the most serious crisis in relations between Madrid and Rabat since 2002, when a territorial dispute broke out over a desert island off the Moroccan coast. It is a humanitarian, diplomatic and political challenge for the Spanish government. In recent years there have been migration peaks on the south coast and the Canary Islands.
Fears about migration have fueled the growth of Vox, a far-right party that came to Parliament in 2019. Vox was quick to attribute the situation in Ceuta to the “inaction” of the government and its leader visited the city on Tuesday.
HOW DO THE FACTS AFFECT EUROPEAN MIGRATION?
Other European Union countries closely monitor events in Ceuta. Since the 2015 migration crisis, the bloc has tried to reduce the flow of irregular migration, in part through agreements with transit countries such as Morocco, Turkey and Libya, among others.
The situation in Ceuta and a similar crisis on the land border between Turkey and Greece reveal how the agreements give weight to transit countries over the 27-nation bloc. The EU Commissioner for Internal Affairs, Ylva Johansson, described the situation in Ceuta as “worrying” and stressed that the Spanish-Moroccan border is also the external border of the EU. He exhorted Morocco to prevent irregular crossings.