The Spanish police tried in Fnideq on May 18, 2021, to disperse migrants on the border between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Ceuta.

FADEL SENNA | AFP | Getty Images

A diplomatic rift is believed to have deepened between Spain and Morocco after thousands of undocumented migrants attempted to enter Spanish territory, which was apparently not obstructed by Moroccan authorities.

Spain has struggled to secure its borders after thousands of migrants arrived this week in Ceuta, one of two Spanish enclaves on Morocco’s north coast.

Around 8,000 migrants – including families, children and young people – are said to have entered Ceuta on Monday and Tuesday. Many of them enter the area by swimming around border fences in the sea that separate the enclave from Morocco, as well as reports of migrants using inflatable dinghies. At least one person is said to have died during the crossing.

The influx of migrants caused Spain to deploy armed forces to secure the beach and increase the police presence in the enclaves. According to the Spanish government, a smaller number of migrants had also tried to penetrate further along the coast into the Spanish enclave of Melilla. Around half of the 8,000 migrants who, according to the BBC, were predominantly Moroccan, have returned to Morocco, according to the Spanish authorities.

Even so, the arrivals appear to have provoked a diplomatic spit between Spain and Morocco, particularly after reports and footage that appeared to show the Moroccan authorities that migrants could try to enter Ceuta without attempting to stop them.

CNBC has asked the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment but has yet to receive a response.

Migrants swim to Tarajal Beach from Morocco while others are already walking along the beach on the Spanish side on May 17, 2021 in Ceuta, Spain.

Europa Press News | Europa Press | Getty Images

Ceuta and Melilla have been under Spanish rule since the 17th century, although Morocco has claimed the territories as its own since independence in 1956. Some believe the current tension between Spain and Morocco is due to Spain accepting Brahim Ghali, leader of the Western Sahara Polisario Front (who wants independence for Western Sahara) to be hospitalized in Spain last month for treatment, what upset Morocco.

Morocco reportedly withdrew its ambassador for talks with Madrid after the Spanish foreign minister told the envoy that she was “disgusted” with what had happened, the BBC reported on Tuesday.

“Crisis for Spain and also for Europe”

The EU has expressed its support for Spain, although the latest incident – one of thousands of attempts by migrants to enter European territory in recent years – only contributed to the porosity of EU borders and the lack of uniform EU migration policies to emphasize.

It is also another demonstration of the ongoing desperation of migrants trying to enter the bloc for economic opportunity or refuge from conflict, poverty and human rights abuses.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, tweeted that the “EU is in solidarity with Ceuta and Spain” and the bloc needs “common EU solutions for migration management”.

“This can be achieved with an agreement on the new migration pact. Stronger partnerships based on mutual trust and shared commitments with key partners like Morocco are vital,” she said.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez puts on his mask after making a statement on May 18, 2021 at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid.


Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson also tweeted that “the most important thing now is that Morocco remains committed to preventing irregular departures,” adding that “Spanish borders are European borders. The European Union wants to build a trusting relationship with Morocco that is shared Commitments. Migration is a key element in this regard. “

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez met with other Spanish government officials on Tuesday to discuss what the government described as “a serious crisis for Spain and also for Europe”.

There, Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said: “What happened … is an attack on our borders and that cannot be part of the good relationship with Morocco, but we will continue to maintain it because we are neighboring and close countries. ”

Spain said its priority is “to ensure traffic control on the border with Morocco” and to provide the cities of Ceuta and Melilla with all the necessary means to resolve and deal with the humanitarian crisis caused by the arrival of so many people To continue to return from any person who has entered Ceuta and Melilla irregularly, as provided for in the agreements signed by Spain and Morocco for years. “

Sanchez visited the tiny enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on Tuesday after vowing to “restore order to the city and its borders”.

On Tuesday, Sanchez had tweeted that his priority was “to restore normalcy to Ceuta”.

“Citizens need to know that they have the absolute support of the Spanish government and the utmost determination to ensure their safety and to defend their integrity as part of the country against any challenge.”