Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has pledged to safeguard the territorial integrity of the Spanish exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla after 6,000 migrants from Morocco entered Spanish territory, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reports.
Sánchez, who visited both territories on Tuesday (18 May) said his priority was to restore “normality” to Ceuta, a Spanish exclave on the north coast of Africa, and secure “by all means” the “territorial integrity” of the country.
Sánchez’s comments come as his government sent extra army and military police units to secure the border with Morocco, amid one of the most serious crises with its southern neighbour in recent years.
An estimated 6,000 migrants entered Ceuta from Morocco on Monday night, swimming or wading around the coastal border fence that separates both territories. This was the largest number of migrants to have ever arrived on Spanish soil within one day.
Spain’s Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said that several hundred migrants had been returned to Morocco, adding that at least 1,500 minors were among those who managed to enter Ceuta.
The minister told Spain’s public broadcaster RTVE that 200 additional soldiers and 200 police officers would be deployed to the territory to help the roughly 1,000 agents stationed in Ceuta.
In a bid to reduce tensions, Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya denied that the migratory crisis was the consequence of a bilateral dispute with Morocco.
However, Morroco’s ambassador to Spain, Karima Benyaich, warned that actions have direct consequence and that people should take responsibility for these actions.
Spain has in the past defended the need to transfer more resources to Morocco to help Rabat secure its border with the EU. Unrelated to the crisis, Spain on Tuesday approved a €30 million package to help Morocco fight illegal migration.
Full support from Brussels
Brussels has expressed solidarity with Spain.
“The Spanish border with Ceuta is a European border. Full solidarity with Spain,” tweeted European Commission Vice-President for Promoting the European Way of Life Margaritis Schinas.
Political analysts have suggested a possible link between the crisis and Spain’s decision to grant asylum to Brahim Ghali, the leader of the Polisario Front, a group that fights for the independence of the Sahrawi people in Western Sahara, considered by Morocco as part of its territory.
Some experts even suggested Morocco was deliberately blackmailing Spain on migration, Spanish newspaper ABC reported.
Spain said in April it had granted asylum on humanitarian grounds to 71-year-old Ghali, who is currently receiving treatment for cancer and respiratory problems in a medical centre in Logroño, La Rioja.
[Edited by Daniel Eck and Josie Le Blond]