April 14, 2024

By: Mariah Abdel-Aziz


Moroccan men and boys sit as the Spanish army cordons off the area at the border of Morocco and Spain, in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Photo: https://atalayar.com/en/content/spain-faces-new-migration-crisis-due-diplomatic-conflict-morocco



At the Centre stage:

The humanitarian crisis unleashed by the unprecedented influx of 8,000 migrants into Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta has laid bare Morocco’s disrespect for the European Union and willingness to risk the lives of children and babies in the diplomatic row, Spanish authorities have said.


Decoding in Detail:

People, including children, have been subjected to violence by Spanish security forces and the army, including being thrown into the sea, after Morocco opened its borders, according to Amnesty International.

The organization says that asylum-seekers and migrants are being used as pawns in a political game between Morocco and Spain, after more than 8,000 people, including about 2,000 unaccompanied children, entered Ceuta from Morocco irregularly before being subjected to collective expulsions.

We cannot accept that people, including children, are being beaten by Spanish forces. While border officials did provide emergency assistance to people, abuses cannot be tolerated. Spanish authorities must open a thorough investigation and ensure accountability, said Virginia Álvarez, Head of Internal Policy and researcher at Amnesty International Spain.

Many of those who entered Spain were very young children. The authorities must ensure that the best interests of the child are protected in all cases and that they are able to request international protection.

European leaders were quick to support Spain and say that Spanish borders are EU borders. By the same logic, Spanish abuses are also EU abuses. We call on EU leaders to not turn a blind eye to the abuses happening at EU borders.

Morocco is playing with people’s lives. They must not use people, among them its own citizens, as pawns in a political game, said Virginia Álvarez.

Morocco has a long track record of abusing the rights of asylum seekers and migrants at this border. In the past Amnesty International has documented unlawful raids, arrests, and removal of migrants and asylum seekers in encampments and homes near the Spanish borders to southern Morocco without due process.

It appears from a Facebook post by Morocco’s Minister for Human Rights that this selective border enforcement was retaliation for the medical treatment that a Polisario leader received in Spain, suggesting that authorities may have utilized migrants and asylum seekers as pawns in this dispute.

Spain deployed troops and extra police to repel crowds who were trying to get around security fences from Morocco into the tiny Spanish territory after a huge incursion of migrants the day before.

This sudden arrival of irregular migrants is a serious crisis for Spain and Europe, said Pedro Sanchez in a televised address to the nation before traveling to Ceuta and Melilla, another Spanish enclave bordering Morocco.

European Union leaders backed Spain, saying the mass incursion in Ceuta was a breach of the bloc’s borders. European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas called for a strong protection of our borders.

Experts suggested this huge influx, which included entire families, was an attempt by Morocco to pressure Spain to alter its policy toward Western Sahara, the disputed territory to which Rabat lays claim.

Morocco and Spain have been mired in a diplomatic dispute over the presence in Spain of a Polisario Front leader, whose movement has fought for the independence of Western Sahara.

The leader, Brahim Ghali, is receiving treatment at a hospital in Logroño in northern Spain, after he was diagnosed with COVID-19.

Spain has long maintained that a solution to the dispute can only come from an agreement brokered by the United Nations. Moroccan Foreign Minister Naser Burita asked whether Spain wanted to sacrifice relations with Morocco by failing to inform Rabat of Ghali’s presence in Spain.

Analysts said it appeared Morocco was playing a familiar game by relaxing its border controls to prove a political point against its neighbor Spain. The mass arrival of migrants that overwhelmed Spanish border guards occurred after Spain allowed for Brahim Ghali, who played a key role in the fight for the independence of Western Sahara, to be treated medically in the country. However, Morocco put an end to the migratory exodus as Reuters reported that Ghali had been handed a June 1 summons to war crime court in Spain.

The Spanish government, faced with the impassivity of the Moroccan gendarmerie, has deployed several army units whose main functions to group together the new arrivals, collaborate in logistics and help maintain calm, according to the EFE news agency. Contrary to the silence of the Moroccan authorities, Pedro Sánchez’s government has already made a statement on this new migration crisis.



Both sides, Spain and Morocco, have abused the migrants’ rights and have taken bias actions on this account. In the case of Morocco, the country has ignored thousands of migrants heading to Spain’s Ceuta enclave to pressure Madrid to recognise its sovereignty over Western Sahara, as France24 reported. In the case of Spain, it had spread security forces at the borders to prevent migrants flow into Spain’s territories. However, hundreds of migrants including children were subjected to violence by Spanish security forces and were enforced to come back to home by being thrown them to the sea.

In addition, Morocco has a very strong card to play which is migration control, according to AFP news agency. It is not as if Morocco does not have the capacity to control its borders. Morocco decides to be more or less strict in the control of its border depending on the status of its relationship with Spain, as Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez pointed out.

Mohamed Benaissa, the head of the North Observatory for Human Rights in the Moroccan border town of Fnideq, said Monday’s influx could be linked to the diplomatic crisis between Morocco and Spain over the Western Sahara.

The Moroccan foreign minister, Naser Burita, said in January that Rabat wanted Spain to change its policy to support Moroccan claims over Western Sahara. This is how it puts pressure on Madrid, as VOA explained.


Atalayar, (May 18, 2021): “Spain faces a new migration crisis due to the diplomatic conflict with Morocco”. Retrieved from: https://atalayar.com/en/content/spain-faces-new-migration-crisis-due-diplomatic-conflict-morocco

France24, (May 18, 2021): “Morocco uses migrants to press Spain over W.Sahara: analysts”. Retrieved from: https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210518-morocco-uses-migrants-to-press-spain-over-w-sahara-analysts

Amnesty, (May 19, 2021): “Spain/Morocco: People ‘being used as pawns’ as political games turn violent. Retrieved from:  https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/05/spainmorocco-people-being-used-as-pawns-as-political-games-turn-violent/

Voice of America News, (May 19, 2021): Spain Says Flood of Migrants from Morocco is ‘Serious Crisis”. Retrieved from: https://www.voanews.com/europe/spain-says-flood-migrants-morocco-serious-crisis

Euro News, (May 19, 2021): “Is Morocco using migration as a bargaining chip against the EU?” Retrieved from: https://www.euronews.com/2021/05/25/is-morocco-using-migration-as-a-bargaining-chip-against-the-eu

Reuters, (May 20, 2021): “Morocco blames Spain for spat, says weather caused migrant crisis” Retrieved from: https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/morocco-blames-spain-spat-says-weather-caused-migrant-crisis-2021-05-20/