With Dantesque scenes reminiscent of those experienced lately at the U.S.-Mexico border, thousands of illegal immigrants are crossing the border in the last 24 hours, entering the Spanish city of Ceuta in a massive and uncontrolled manner, bringing the migratory crisis between Spain and Morocco to a climax.
The Spanish Government Delegation has put the number of people who have crossed the border since the outbreak of the migration crisis between Spain and Morocco last Monday at more than 5,000 – although unofficial sources speak of up to 10,000 people – who are walking into the city of Ceuta, circumventing the border breakwaters, or even swimming.
Ceuta is a Spanish autonomous city located on the African shore of the Strait of Gibraltar. With a population of just 85,000 inhabitants, in less than 24 hours it has been overwhelmed by the influx of more than 5,000 immigrants from Morocco. The José Benoliel soccer stadium has been set up to house the adult Moroccans, while the minors – estimated at 1,500 – will go to the Tarajal warehouses.
At first, and in the face of the passivity of the Spanish security forces, the immigrants ran away, sowing chaos in the streets of Ceuta. At least four schools have been occupied by the immigrants, one of them having suffered a fire. Assaults on homes and businesses have been reported, as well as attempted car thefts and street altercations with Spanish citizens, who remain locked in their homes out of fear. In addition, one person has died among the illegal immigrants, a death for which there is still no further information.
The President of Ceuta, Juan Jesús Vivas, has declared that the city is living in a state of emergency due to the migratory crisis between Spain and Morocco. Vaccination has been suspended, and more than half of the students of Ceuta have not gone to the classrooms of schools and institutes for fear of the situation unleashed.
After a few hours of bewilderment in the face of this migratory crisis between Spain and Morocco, the Spanish government -which police unions have accused of lack of foresight and determination in the face of the crisis- has deployed its security forces, who are firing tear gas at the border to stop the immigrants.
The Army has deployed in Ceuta at least four BMR armored vehicles on the Tarajal beach, and dozens of military personnel are on the border fence of the jetty and the beach with helmets, bulletproof vests and batons. There are also national police and civil guards patrolling the streets of Ceuta to try to restore order and ensure the security of the city.
The Minister of the Interior, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, assures that 2,700 immigrants have already been deported, and has said that “the Government is putting all the necessary means to protect the borders and proceed to the immediate return of the people who are entering our country illegally. Ceuta is as much Spain as Madrid or Barcelona. We are going to be forceful in the defense of our borders.”
Although he then added that “we are going to be just as belligerent in the defense of our borders as in the fight against hate speeches”, in an attempt to appease the Government of Morocco, which seems to be behind this coordinated action.
What sparked the crisis between Spain and Morocco?
Images are circulating of Moroccan police facilitating access to migrants and opening the gates in some fenced areas for them to continue unimpeded towards the border with Ceuta. Other sources assure that this migratory crisis between Spain and Morocco has been organized by the Moroccan government, and that the immigrants were even transported in buses from Morocco.
The Moroccan ambassador in Spain, Karima Benyaich, said this Tuesday that in the relations between countries there are acts that have consequences, “and they have to be assumed”, in a veiled reference to the decision of Spain to give medical attention to the leader of the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali.
This Moroccan action seems to be the response to the hospitalization in Spain for “humanitarian reasons” of Brahim Ghali, 71 years old, infected with coronavirus and suffering from digestive cancer, leader of the Polisario Front for the independence of Western Sahara, seized from Spain in 1975 and occupied by Morocco since then.
Despite the statements of the Moroccan ambassador, and the fact that the Spanish police and military forces warned of the very likely reprisals from Morocco, the Spanish Foreign Minister says that Morocco assures that the arrival of thousands of immigrants in Ceuta “is not the result of a disagreement” with Spain, and that “they have begun during the afternoon with the returns of illegal immigrants with the usual practices with which they respond to this type of situation.”
Meanwhile, local sources in Morocco and Ceuta assure that there are hundreds of people -including entire families and children- arriving near the border, who hope to be able to cross the fence, so that the migratory crisis between Spain and Morocco could continue, and even worsen, in the coming days.