Spain hopes for swift end to spat with Morocco as more migrants sent back

A police officer talks to migrant in Fnideq, close to the Spanish enclave Ceuta, in Morocco, May 19, 2021. — Reuters pic
A police officer talks to migrant in Fnideq, close to the Spanish enclave Ceuta, in Morocco, May 19, 2021. — Reuters pic

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MADRID, May 21 — The Spanish interior minister said today he hoped a diplomatic spat with Morocco over an influx of illegal migrants into Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta would soon end.

Morocco had appeared to loosen its border controls with Ceuta for two days on Monday, letting thousands of migrants pour into the enclave. The move was widely viewed as retaliation for Spain’s hosting of Western Sahara independence leader Brahim Ghali.

Spain has said Ghali was admitted as a Covid-19 patient to a Spanish hospital last month under an assumed name and an Algerian diplomatic passport for humanitarian reasons.

“There was a disagreement (with Morocco) and we hope this disagreement will be as short-lived as possible,” Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska told COPE radio station.

“It is inconceivable that a humanitarian gesture should trigger a situation like the crisis in Ceuta.”

Ghali’s Algeria-backed Polisario Front is fighting for the independence of Western Sahara, a territory once held by Spain and under Moroccan control since the 1970s.

Ceuta was quiet today as authorities kept sending back migrants who had broken into the enclave. More than 6,500 migrants have now been returned to Morocco out of some 8,000 who swam to Ceuta on Monday and Tuesday, Grande-Marlaska said.

A senior Spanish diplomatic source told Reuters: “We have been calling for calm and moderation since this started... We still have a strategic relationship with Morocco.”

Morocco’s minister of state for human rights, Mustafa Ramid, accused Spain on Thursday of committing a “reckless and totally unacceptable act” in admitting Ghali without consulting Rabat. He said Morocco had “the right to lean back” in response.

In Spain’s other North African enclave, Melilla, located about 300 km (185 miles) east of Ceuta, some 30 migrants crossed over in the early hours on Friday, scaling the high, razor-wired fence that separates it from Morocco, authorities said.

The European Union has expressed solidarity with Spain over the crisis.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said today: “Migrants and refugees can’t be used as geopolitical pawns to put pressure to the European Union as a whole, and I think we need to be very, very strict when this happens”. — Reuters

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