Madrid (AP) – In the Spanish exclave of Ceuta in North Africa, about 6,000 migrants from Morocco had arrived on Tuesday morning. Of these, 1,600 had already been returned to the neighboring country, Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska told TV broadcaster RTVE.
About 1,500 of the people who have arrived since Monday morning are minors. These are usually not returned immediately. On the Moroccan side, there are still people who want to try to get to Ceuta illegally, the minister said. The government has also sent 200 police officers to Ceuta.
Never before have so many people arrived in one day in the small exclave of about 85,000 inhabitants. Morocco had suspended control of the neighboring beaches without explanation. Thousands took the opportunity to walk to the coastal border fence. From there they only had to swim around a pier to get to Ceuta. The authorities of the exclave were completely overwhelmed and could do nothing but save people from drowning. There was another death. The adults who initially walked around town were taken to a stadium. The minors were housed in a detention center that was now completely overcrowded.
Morocco is letting people pass, according to Spanish media, because it is upset that Spain has allowed medical treatment for the head of the Polisario independence movement for Western Sahara, Brahim Ghali, at a hospital in Logroño. Morocco claims the area on the southern border as part of its national territory. There was initially no explanation from Rabat.
The Western Sahara on the North African Atlantic coast was a Spanish colony until 1975. Morocco controls large parts of the sparsely populated area on the southern border. The Polisario strives for independence for Western Sahara. Morocco only wants to give the region autonomy.
In December, US President Donald Trump, who had already been voted out but was still in office, recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. Since then, tensions have increased between Morocco and European countries critical of Trump’s decision. So, in early May, Rabat recalled his ambassador from Berlin.
The Spanish newspaper “El País” described the situation for Ceuta the day before as a “highway at sea”. Most of those who arrived were men, but there were also women and families with babies among them. Some carried swimming rings or small inflatable boats. According to unconfirmed media reports, migrants from sub-Saharan countries also migrated to Ceuta in the Moroccan port city of Tangier.
Many Moroccans in the area of Ceuta and the other Spanish exclave of Melilla in North Africa have lost their jobs and income since Morocco closed the border to the two areas in March 2020 due to the corona pandemic. Again and again people who worked differently in the exclaves demonstrated to end the closure.