Morocco puts Spain under pressure with migrants in Ceuta | Free press

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Madrid (dpa) – “Like a highway on the sea” – is how the Spanish newspaper “El País” described the sometimes dramatic images of thousands of people from Morocco swimming in the Mediterranean Sea to Ceuta.

About 7,000 people, including about 1,500 minors, managed to reach the North African exclave of Madrid and thus effectively the EU within 24 hours. The news spread like wildfire on Monday that the Moroccan border guards suddenly didn’t stop anyone. And according to the Spanish media, that was no coincidence – it was a calculated move by the government in Rabat.

At first she did not comment on the events on Tuesday. But observers are sure that Moroccan security forces have deliberately relaxed checks at the border with Ceuta in the northwest of the country, which is only about five miles long, to add pressure in a diplomatic crisis with Spain that has been going on for weeks. smoldering.

Charles Michel, President of the EU Council, promised Spain “full solidarity” with Brussels. “The borders of Spain are the borders of the European Union. Cooperation, trust and shared commitments should be the principles of a close relationship between the EU and Morocco, ”said Michel.

But there appears to be a lack of confidence in the conflict. Central to the dispute is Western Sahara on the North African Atlantic coast, a Spanish colony until 1975. Morocco claims large parts of the sparsely populated area, but only a few countries – including the US – support this internationally. The Polisario Liberation Front, in turn, is fighting for the independence of Western Sahara.

The Moroccan government is angry that the Secretary-General of the Polisario, Brahim Ghali, has been treated in a Spanish hospital since April. Rabat considers him a war criminal and demands his arrest. Just ten days ago, the Moroccan Foreign Ministry released an angry statement saying it was a “serious act” that could not be justified. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez spoke of a “serious crisis for Spain” and confirmed that every effort would be made to ensure the security of the borders of Spain and its citizens.

Germany’s relationship with Morocco is also tense because of Western Sahara. The reason was Berlin’s criticism of the previous US administration’s decision under President Donald Trump to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over the area. In early May, the Rabat leadership accused the Federal Republic of “repeatedly acting hostile to the higher interests of the Kingdom of Morocco” and recalled the ambassador to Berlin for consultations. Germans in Morocco are also feeling the effects of the crisis. You hear from them that expired residence permits are currently not being renewed.

The authorities of Ceuta, with a population of about 85,000, were overwhelmed by the large number of people arriving. “We provide people with the essentials, dry clothes, food and water,” Isabel Brasero of the Spanish Red Cross said on television. Thousands of migrants ran across the city before being taken to a stadium. Minors were sent to an overcrowded detention center.

On Tuesday, the Spanish army began sending the migrants back to Morocco one by one through a door in the border fence. On the Moroccan side of the fence, thousands were waiting for an opportunity to reach Ceuta. The closure of Morocco’s border with Ceuta since March 2020 as a result of the corona pandemic has plunged many people into poverty. Some threw stones at Spanish security forces, who responded with tear gas. At least 1,500 people were returned within hours, according to Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska.

Violent images were shown on television. Soldiers led some limping migrants across the beach to the boundary fence, while swimmers arriving just a few yards away attempted to get out of the water and onto the beach. Soldiers prevent them from doing that. Only those who were completely exhausted were taken to ambulances on stretchers. A Spanish judge asked on television that the deportations were even legal.