May 2021, Special coverage of events in Ceuta | Press Review Morocco

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Photo: Mario Sánchez Bueno on wikipedia commons

COMIRE selected of articles explaining some of the reasons behind the migration events in Ceuta in addition to the latest developments in Ceuta, such as reactions of the EU, reactions of NGOs and situation of migrants in Ceuta.

Background information on the events in Ceuta

Fnideq-Tanger-Tetouan region: border trade
and consequences of border closure

In this section, we explore two topics: The border trader and the consequences or border closer, and we take a deeper look at the abuse, theft and harassment of “women mules” in Morocco. We explore through these articles concepts such the informality of borders, and how “the closure of the border post for porters between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Ceuta is causing an “unprecedented” socio-economic crisis”.

The informality of borders

It is 4 a.m. 6 a.m. Spanish time. It is still dark. But at Bab Sebta (called El Tarajal by the Spanish), the border point between Fnideq and Sebta, the activity has already started. Hundreds of women, wrapped in scarves, a few young men, and also blind and elderly people, are gathered at the gate that formalizes the border. Under the gaze of the Moroccan police, they organise themselves calmly and form a disciplined line in front of a small gate, located to the right of the one usually used by cars and pedestrians. This gate is dedicated to the passage of these “hamalas” (porters), also called “portadoras” (porters), or mujeres mulas (mule women). Loaded with loads weighing up to 80 kilos, they are employed to carry goods from Sebta to the Moroccan side of the border every day, which are then sold in the souks in the north of Morocco and throughout the country (Derb Ghallef, etc.). In order to reduce the congestion and the mass of products, the customs have limited the entries: it is only possible to cross the border from Monday to Thursday, from 5 or 6 in the morning until around midday. The carriers, from the province of Tetouan, are therefore exempt from visa requirements. But a real traffic of domiciliation certificates allows people from all over Morocco to be domiciled in the communes of the province of Tetouan for 7000 to 8000 dhs. The same phenomenon exists in Melilla.

Informal trade?

Every morning, it is the same ritual. The gate opens at around 5am (Moroccan time). The long queue then starts to move towards a small “office”, located to the right of the police control offices through which these travellers pass. Exempted from visa formalities and from the obligation to have their passports stamped (which would quickly be saturated if they actually did the formalities at each passage), they go directly to the police officer in charge of passport control. He obviously knows them and lets them pass after having greeted them and accepted a 5 or 10 dhs coin (per pass) from them. This is a small amount of money if one considers that every day between 30,000 and 40,000 people (according to the police) use this passage, often several times a day. After the police check, each person rushes, in single file, into a long and narrow column surrounded by fencing and barbed wire that leads to the Spanish side, also separated from the one used by the usual pedestrians. It is a dangerous passage, especially in the suffocating heat, and in view of the number of people who sometimes pile up there. Incidents are regularly reported. At the end of May, two women died, suffocated in a stampede. Last August, another woman died as a result of blows to the head. At the exit of this long tunnel, Spanish police and customs officers vaguely check passports, obviously also used to the exercise.

Once past the police, another passage, also surrounded by fences and barbed wire, gives access to the “market”. The “Market” is in fact a gigantic free zone where 260 huge warehouses filled to the brim with various goods are grouped together: household appliances, textiles, food and cosmetics, etc. This merchandise, unloaded from ships arriving at the port of Sebta, is Spanish, but also Chinese or many other countries. The city’s status as a free zone, like that of Melilla, allows it to develop a trade in tax-free products. Goods that are then sold at a higher price on the markets of northern Morocco. Before the existence of this zone – opened in 2004 – these smugglers used to go to the city centre of Sebta for supplies. In order to relieve the city of this daily flow of 30-40,000 people (out of a total population of about 75,000), the Sebta authorities decided to build this market, especially for this clientele. The large traders present in Sebta are the suppliers of the owners of the Market’s warehouses (of Spanish and Moroccan nationality, but also – for some years now – Chinese, Indian and Syrian). The Market, built right on the border, therefore solves the problem of this mass of people transiting the city every day and saves time for the smugglers themselves.

Occupation? “Men and women mules”

Once at the market, it’s a rush. Not a minute is to be lost: for each journey made between Ceuta and Morocco, the carriers pocket thirty to one hundred dirhams (the price varies according to the content of the parcel). In front of each warehouse, the parcels are already ready for loading. The porters load the huge bundles on their backs, using ropes, tape or any other means possible, even filling their clothes with various goods. In these giant parcels, whose contents are not identifiable, we find all sorts of products: clothes, children’s nappies, cosmetics, household appliances or electronics (mobile phones, etc.) but also bottles of alcohol, etc. Thousands of women and men, like Si Aziz who is over 70 years old, carry every day on their backs loads of contraband goods of all kinds to feed the trade between the Spanish enclave of Sebta and Morocco.

Women are more likely to be smuggled than men, who are more often suspected of smuggling weapons or drugs. Mother of 3 children, Iman makes the round trip 5 to 6 times a day. “I have no other income to feed my three children”, she explains. The same goes for Fatima, 45 years old, divorced and taking care of her parents and her younger sister: “It allows the family to live. We have no choice, there is no work here”, she says before crossing the border. Lalla Aïcha, aged 75, only passes on a few products that she will then sell on her own account on the pavement in front of the Fnideq market. The most resilient of the porters manage to make five or six crossings per morning. The border closes at 1pm, putting an end to the porters’ comings and goings. The closing, like the opening, also depends on the goodwill of the Moroccan customs officers, who also filter the exits according to the bakchichs.

Once the goods have been “loaded”, their backs bent under their weight, the “mule men and women” set about climbing the hill towards the Biutz gate, “a semi-official border post between the Spanish enclave of Ceuta and Morocco”, explain associative sources, a crossing point of dubious legality. It was built a few hundred metres from the official customs post, and only carriers loaded with goods could use it. An interminable line then follows up the hill on the Moroccan side.

Everyone knows each other and greets each other. The policemen and customs officers too, some of whom even call each other by their first names.

The Moroccan police observe and make sure that order is maintained. The Spanish national police are indifferent, content to surround the crowd and ensure that the men’s and women’s turnstiles do not get blocked. Attention should be drawn to the absence of a commercial customs office at the Sebta border point on the Moroccan side, which means that it is simply impossible to legally bring in products from the Spanish side. Little or no control is carried out on the nature of the packages. However, recent accidents have made it necessary to introduce some standards into this chaotic trading system, which is far from European working standards. The Spanish police officers present are mainly concerned with the safety of the carriers and now control certain rules: it is forbidden to have packages that are too big, to always have one hand free in case of a fall, and to stay in the safety corridor.

The barons of the informal sector

Meanwhile, on the Moroccan side of the border, white taxis and private vehicles pass by, pouring in dozens more people who have also come to “cross”. They then park in the car park next to the Moroccan customs to wait for passengers to return. Others take a path, located to the left of the border crossing point and leading to a small hill. This hill is also reached by the path taken by the porters as they leave the Market. Once on the Moroccan side, the goods of all kinds are piled up on top of this hill, on a crowded median.

Some small piles obviously belong to individuals and are watched over by an elderly person or a child. Others, much larger, are watched over by “guards” as the porters leave and return. These belong to one big trader or smuggler. For if for a long time smuggling concerned “small smugglers” and was done in an “artisanal” way, it is evolving towards a different organisation and is gradually “industrializing”. Today, the majority of smugglers work for large “principals” and we are witnessing a shift from “small” to “large” trade, which is crowding out the “small” ones. “The so-called survival traffic – individual – has become a very small minority. The big traffic is the rule”, explains Lahbib Hajji, president of the Association for the Defence of Human Rights (ADDH) based in Tetouan, and very active in the region.

The goods are then loaded onto vehicles and transported at high speed. The goods are then loaded onto vehicles and transported at high speed to a covered car park, the Hammadi car park, where they are deposited for the Fnideq market (Souk El Massira). Other vehicles leave directly for Bab Nouader in Tetouan. According to security sources, the vehicles used, apart from the white collective taxis requisitioned for the mission, are stolen cars with false number plates. The rest is either stored or distributed in trucks that will supply the Derb Ghallef souks in Casablanca and the entire Moroccan market.

This “traffic”, which today provides a living for thousands of people, has gradually come under the control of about twenty large traders and traffickers who monopolise the market, employing hundreds of “smugglers” and intermediaries on their behalf, and “bribing” members of the Moroccan and Spanish police. “They pay the Spanish and Moroccan police and are helped by a very organised network of people,” said a source who requested anonymity. “They collect extraordinary amounts of money every day, have taken over the small smugglers and are in cahoots with the Moroccan and Spanish police and customs,” he continues.

Many, like him, or like the ADDH, denounce the involvement of security officials (police and customs) with the traffickers. This is particularly true of a perfectly observable process: the bales belonging to the traffickers are identified by a clearly visible number on the fabric surrounding the goods. The police and customs officers let them pass without any control. At the end of the day, the “big smugglers” pay their “bill”, i.e. the price of the total number of bales passed with the number that corresponds to them during the day. “There are 20 or 30 big traffickers who have divided this market by sector,” explains Mohamed Saïd Soussi, secretary general of the ADDH. Who are these fortunes? Where do they come from, and where do the masses of money they are making come from? “A few very rich people monopolise and control the smuggling traffic from Sebta and enslave thousands of porters for a few dirhams”, denounced Khalid Attaoui in an article published at the end of July 2008 1. In recent weeks, a real drop in “activity” between Sebta and Fnideq has been observed, some even speaking of a “smuggling crisis”.

The fact remains that “the region has become a real area of organised smuggling and these people impose their authority on all the small traders in the region. Especially since these are the same people who launch some of the big projects: cafés, tourist and real estate projects,” he adds. It is therefore difficult for others to initiate commercial projects in the face of them and the competition from contraband products. This is illustrated by the example of a shopkeeper in the Fnideq souk who explains, under cover of anonymity because he fears reprisals, that he was beaten up a few weeks ago by “henchmen” after having denounced this traffic in the press. To supply his business with second-hand clothes, he had two porters working. “But now I have to go through the traffickers. They are the ones who bring the goods to me with their porters.

Informal sectors but for whom?

This traffic is more or less legal, but the Spanish authorities turn a blind eye. The traders of the Sebta Market pay taxes to the Spanish authorities, who therefore see no problem with its existence and refuse to talk about smuggling. “The city’s authorities have a vested interest in selling their products and no interest in looking at their destination. Sebta’s economy depends on it,” says Mohamed Ali, president of the Muslim Association of Sebta and former shopkeeper in the city. According to him, this trade represents around 90% of Ceuta’s GDP. The value of exports between Sebta and Melilla and Morocco, mostly smuggled, reached 1 billion dollars (figures from the Economic Bulletin of the Chamber of Commerce of Sebta and Melilla) in 2000 and 1.4 billion dollars in 2003.

This is a significant financial windfall for this territory of about 15 km2 , which has no industry or other economic activities. All the more so as the economic situation of Sebta has deteriorated and is suffering from competition from Chinese products. “For some years now, there have been a lot of Chinese products on the market in Sebta. Many large traders now buy their supplies from China,” explains Mohamed Ali. This trade is also favoured by the absence of trade customs with Morocco. “There is no law governing trade between Sebta and Morocco,” Mohamed Ali denounces. Morocco refuses, for political reasons, to officialise a commercial exchange with Sebta, which would mean recognising its status as a Spanish city.

This traffic, a very worrying phenomenon for the region and its economic future, represents billions of losses for Morocco every year.

A region whose GDP is 10 to 15 times lower than that of Spain and Sebta (figures from the Ceuta Institute of Studies), a European border city and a pole of economic attraction, with a standard of living that contrasts with that of the northern region of Morocco in which it is located. All these elements are due to the extent of the traffic of goods between the Spanish enclave and Morocco. This traffic certainly provides a living for thousands of people in a region where other alternatives are rare. “There is no economic project offering work to the people here,” says Lahbib Hajji indignantly. So, for fear of the social consequences, they let it happen. “Morocco has no strategy against the informal sector and smuggling,” deplores El Houssine Majdoubi, a journalist from Tetouan who specialises in the North and lives in Madrid and has worked extensively on the subject. He adds that “the whole region lives on trafficking and smuggling, not to mention all those who are paid, at all levels, to let it happen”.

He estimates that this corruption amounts to at least 60 million euros per year for the city of Sebta alone. He underlines the economic, social and health consequences of this smuggling. Not to mention the fact that no controls are carried out on the quality of the goods. “Some of the goods transiting in this way are out of date,” Mohamed Ali denounced. “There are stocks, shops at the border that sell these expired products. Some of them are even relabelled with new expiry dates,” he explains. Some Chinese products, including pharmaceutical products that are starting to appear on the market (Viagra, for example!), are also sold in Morocco without any controls.

Although some say that the smuggling economy is in crisis, it still seems to have a bright future ahead of it. (this article has been published before 2020 as the borders closed before the COVID-19 pandemic- more information in the following articles)

For more information, please consult in (French) the following link.

Abuse, theft and harassment: the burden of “women mules” in Morocco

The “mule women” have certainly been relieved of their burden, but they have no alternatives. The closure of the border post for porters between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Ceuta is causing an “unprecedented” socio-economic crisis, according to testimonies gathered by AFP.

“They want to turn us into beggars! “Fatima complains. The 50-year-old has worked all her life as a “mule woman” between the Moroccan town of Fnideq and Ceuta. Four months ago, the border post reserved for porters was suddenly closed, on Morocco’s decision, to fight against smuggling that affects its productive fabric. Like thousands of porters harnessed like beasts of burden, Fatima crossed the border of this free zone every day, her back weary from the duty-free Spanish goods she delivered to the town’s traders. “Before, business was good,” but now “there is no work here anymore,” complains this Moroccan woman who has raised five children on her own thanks to this long-tolerated smuggling.Read also Ill-treatment, theft and harassment: the burden of “mule women” in Morocco

It is difficult to regret the disappearance of a tiring and risky activity: in 2017, at least four carriers died in jostling, leading the following year authorities and traders of Ceuta to launch an initiative for the use of carts. But the delivery of the bundles (clothes, food and household goods) generated a commercial activity that irrigated the whole region. And both carriers and traders say they are now waiting for a solution for their reconversion. In the meantime, Fatima sells trinkets in a souk in Fnideq. I don’t earn anything anymore,” she murmurs.

“There are no more customers”

The Moroccan authorities, very prolix on the necessary regulation of the informal sector, have communicated little on the reasons for the closure. Nabyl Lakhdar, the director general of customs, told the daily L’Economiste that smuggled goods were “hurting the economy by destroying the productive sector” in Morocco.

Yet, without this smuggling, the economy of Fnideq, like that of Ceuta, is slowing down. “The impact is enormous,” says Abdellah Haudour, who sells Spanish blankets on the Moroccan side. “Prices have gone up, purchasing power has gone down. There are no more customers,” he says, showing his empty till. “Many have left the city,” he says. The usually crowded bus station is deserted. “My income has been divided by three,” says Mimoun El Mourabit, a 67-year-old taxi driver who used to make frequent trips to neighbouring towns.

Mr. Lakhdar recalls that the porters were “the first victims” of smuggling, with “certain mafiosi” taking advantage of “their precariousness and sometimes their distress”. Until then, everyday consumer products made in Morocco had also had difficulty finding their way into the markets of the north of the country, where Spanish smuggled products were king. This smuggling between Ceuta and Fnideq represented between 6 and 8 billion dirhams (between 570 and 750 million euros) annually, according to the estimates of the head of customs to the news website Médias24.

“Shops have closed”

At the beginning of January, a parliamentary report recommended creating an industrial zone in the region to enable the conversion of carriers. But “who is going to employ women mules in their fifties and illiterate? “asks Abdellah, the trader.

The products transported on foot via the Tarajal II border post were not taxed, hence the enormous weight of the loads carried on the backs of the porters – up to several dozen kilos. From now on, a gate closes the passage, under the eye of the gendarmes. The closure has also caused a “serious trade crisis” in the Spanish port city, as the Confederation of Ceuta’s entrepreneurs denounced in mid-December. At the entrance to the enclave, corrugated iron sheds house all kinds of goods sent by ship from the European continent. This is where most of the trade took place.

“Shops have closed, business has stopped. We are wasting our time here,” says Rachid, 48, in his shoe shop. “If this continues, I’ll have to close the curtain. We depend on the Spanish authorities, we are protected by the social security system. What about Moroccans? “he wonders. Jamal, his grocery neighbour, talks about “an unprecedented crisis” during which his turnover collapsed. Showing his unsold goods, he laments: “Our products are going out of date. “

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.

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Alternatives, contestations and aspirations for a better life

In this section, we explore the current social and economic situation in M’diq-Fnideq, and how it is causing young people to collectively risk their lives at sea.

M’diq-Fnideq: From smuggling to the formal economy, a strategic challenge [Interview]

After several months of economic crisis and several weeks of social protest, the inhabitants of M’diq-Fnideq are benefiting from the first initiatives to revitalise local activities. President of the Northern Observatory for Human Rights (ONDH), Mohamed Benaïssa analyses the situation since the closure of the economic borders with Ceuta.

What is the current social and economic situation in M’diq-Fnideq?

There are great disparities at the local level between municipalities that are part of the same prefecture, namely Martil, M’diq and Fnideq. This is due to the impact of the new coronavirus pandemic and the continued closure of the borders with Ceuta, but also to the drastic decrease in tourist activities, which used to be a central element of the economy in our region. The summer season, which did not take place, has accentuated this crisis, while a possible recovery was hoped for. The city most affected by this multi-factor crisis was Fnideq. This is why its population has demonstrated several times in recent weeks.

Before the closure of the borders for health reasons, smuggling activities via Ceuta were stopped. What are the retraining options for these families?

Since the closure of the economic borders in October 2019, we have already seen a change with the movement of several families living here, who have started to resettle in their original towns and villages. Those who have stayed have been able to rely on a local dynamic of solidarity and mutual aid, while waiting to find a new viable activity.

With this decision, many of those living from smuggling thought that it was a temporary measure and that the informal trade would resume sooner or later. They saw it more as an escalation of the political conflict between Morocco and Spain over the status of the two enclaves.

After several months, they eventually realised that the Moroccan authorities were determined to put an end to this activity once and for all, so many of them remained in a state of limbo before starting to think about a new source of income.

In the voluntary sector, organisations tended to welcome Morocco’s closure of economic borders as an end to decades of exploitation of vulnerable people in illegal activities. Do they have the same opinion today?

Within the ONDH, we are indeed among the human rights associations that supported the October 2019 decision, as we were the only organisation at the local level that called for an end to this activity, but with support through investment in economic alternatives. Our advocacy has been built on the basis of evidence and field data collected over several years, which converge primarily on the violations of the dignity and basic rights of those exploited in smuggling.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.

After relatively calm days, Fnideq resumes protest

Fnideq is once again protesting. On Wednesday 21 April, dozens of demonstrators marched towards the pashalik headquarters, chanting “the people want to earn their living”. They demanded, once again, the reopening of the borders with Ceuta to resume informal trade. In the absence of a solution from the authorities, the protest could resume on Friday 23 April.

Since the first anger of the inhabitants of Fnideq on 5 February, the wilaya of the Tangier-Tetouan-Al Hoceima region has launched programmes for hundreds of people who lost their main source of income with the closure of the border with Ceuta, and distributed food aid to the needy.

Nevertheless, the problem concerns thousands of citizens. In addition to the traders, there are the legal workers who used to enter Ceuta on a daily basis who are suffering from the loss of their jobs. The situation in Fnideq is identical to those in Nador and Beni Nsar. There too, the closure of the border with Melilla has left thousands of men and women stranded.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.

Fnideq: Economic crisis pushes young people to collectively risk their lives at sea

It was a weekend like no other for the inhabitants of Fnideq and M’diq, towns plagued by an unprecedented social crisis that continues to worsen as long as the borders with Sebta remain closed. After protesting repeatedly, sometimes violently, against marginalisation and the lack of alternative opportunities for cross-border trade, young people seem to have no choice but to leave their town, in a way that risks being suicidal.

A collective migration – More than 70 people have emboldened themselves to swim to the enclave of Sebta, local Moroccan and Spanish media reported. In an unprecedented scene that continues to make the rounds on social networks, young migrants were even encouraged by some locals as they prepared to throw themselves into the sea. While most of them managed to reach the coast of Trajal, thanks to the help of rescue teams and the Red Cross, some (the number is still unknown) perished during their crossing and others are still missing. El Faro de Ceuta reported two cases of missing minors and one case of death of a man, father of a family.
Loss of hope? – If young people are risking their lives so desperately, it is because life in Fnideq, as in M’diq and Martil, is becoming very difficult, if not unbearable. For the past three months, the town has been living to the rhythm of the demonstrations of the inhabitants, who have been hit hard by the closure of the border with Sebta, which was the only source of income for hundreds of families, living from cross-border trade and smuggling. Contacted by L’Opinion, Mohammed Abgar, a lawyer and member of the think tank for Fnideq, said that many are losing their jobs in the city under the dual effect of the suspension of smuggling, and the restrictive measures due to the state of health emergency. “This is a structural social crisis,” Abgar said, adding that many young people no longer have hope for an improvement in their lot, despite the promises of the region’s authorities, who have announced job-creating projects in response to the social discontent. For his part, Abderrahman Mandor, a local community activist, believes that this collective migration of young people shows the seriousness of the economic situation in the city of Fnideq. The curfew, the confinement and the closure of the borders have drastically reduced the income of the families, the majority of whom live from daily and informal activities”, he explained, adding that the economy of Fnideq cruelly depends on that of Sebta.
The difficult return to normal life: Despite the plan prepared by the government to reinvigorate economic activity in the city, this is not enough to reassure the inhabitants, especially the young, who expect immediate jobs and instant solutions. In this critical context, patch-up measures are useless in the eyes of Abderrahman Mandor, who believes that only massive government intervention can remedy the current slump.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.

For more information on Morocco’s migration to Europe in the last 50 years, a comparison with the countries in the region and the development of a culture of emigration since the 1990s, please consult (in English) the following link.

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Historical and geo-political issues

In this section, we dive into the historical underpinnings of the current conflict, looking at the story of the last two “Spanish” enclaves in North Africa, the behind-the-scenes story of the stay of Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali in Spain, who is the subject of an international arrest warrant issued by the Spanish judiciary in November 2016, a few months after he became head of the Polisario.

Ceuta and Melilla: the story of the last two “Spanish” enclaves in North Africa

What is the history of the cities of Ceuta and Melilla?

The story of the fall of the two cities begins with the weakening of the Emirate of Beni Al-Ahmar in Granada in the 15th century AD, so that the Portuguese occupied Ceuta in 1415, then Melilla fell into Spanish hands in 1497, and Ceuta remained under Portuguese occupation until 1580 when Spain annexed the Kingdom of Portugal.

Ceuta

Ceuta is located on the Moroccan coast at the entrance to the Mediterranean at the Strait of Gibraltar, and has an area of 20 square kilometres, and is currently home to 77 thousand people. Due to its strategic location, it was controlled by the Romans in 42 AD, and about 400 years later, the Vandals expelled the Romans from the city. Later it was dominated by the Byzantines and then the Goths from Spain.

Ceuta was the base for the Islamic invasion led by Tariq ibn Ziyad of Spain, when his Gothic leader, Julian, changed his position and urged the Muslims to invade Spain. After the fall of the Umayyad Caliphate, chaos reigned until the Murids took control, and they also took it as a base for the attack on Andalusia in 1084.

The change of sovereignty over the city continued until the Portuguese occupied it in 1415, led by Prince Henry the Sea, who aimed to eliminate Muslim influence in the region, and then the city became Spanish when the Spanish king, Philip II, assumed the Portuguese throne in 1580. And after Spain recognised Portugal’s independence, through the Treaty of Lisbon in 1668, the latter ceded Ceuta to Spain. After Morocco gained independence from Spain and France in 1956, Spain retained Ceuta, which has been an autonomous region since 1995.

Melilla

Melilla is located in eastern Morocco, near the Algerian border, off the southern coast of Spain. It covers an area of over 12 square kilometres and currently has a population of 70,000. It was originally a castle built on a high hill, 500 kilometres from the Spanish coast, and is therefore more influenced by Moroccan culture, and the number of Moroccans living there is greater than those living in Ceuta.

The Spanish forces in Melilla were the first to rebel against the leftist government in Madrid, during the Spanish Civil War which broke out in 1936 and lasted until 1939. Melilla remained in the Spanish province of Malaga until 14 March 1995, when it became an autonomous region.

Muslims in both cities had revolted in 1985 to protest against the “Aliens Law”, which required all foreigners in Spain to register their names with the authorities or be deported.

The unemployment rate of Moroccans in both cities is over 30%, which is among the highest in Spain. The two cities also attract thousands of merchants and workers from Moroccan lands who cross the border from Morocco every day to earn a living in these two enclaves.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link and for more information on the history of Melilla and Ceuta please consult the following link. For more information on the externalisation of European asylum and migration policies, please click here and here.

Brahim Ghali case: “El País” publishes new revelations on the Spanish stay of the Polisario leader

The treatment of the Polisario leader in a Spanish hospital, requested by Algiers, has been analysed at the highest level in Madrid, not without some reticence. According to ‘El País’, only a few bilateral meetings between Morocco and Spain have since been suspended.

The title chosen is unambiguous: “A favour to Algeria that poisons relations with Morocco”. In an article published on Tuesday 11 May, the Spanish daily El País recounts the behind-the-scenes story of the transfer of Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali, who has been hospitalised since the end of April in the hospital of San Pedro de Logroño, near Zaragoza.

He would have landed on 18 April at the air base in Zaragoza, according to the Spanish daily, while Jeune Afrique, the source of the revelations, mentioned the date of 21 April. Brahim Ghali is said to have arrived in Spain on board a plane of the Algerian presidency.

Taken under police escort to the hospital, El País confirms that Brahim Ghali registered under the alias of an Algerian citizen – Mohamed Ben Battouche – “for security reasons”. He adds: “The Polisario leader, according to the sources consulted, entered Spain with his identity and his diplomatic passport.

Between reluctance and lack of time

According to El País, it was Sabri Boukadoum, the Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, who made the request to the Spanish authorities during his official visit to Madrid in early April. The head of Algerian diplomacy is said to have “implored” that Ghali be taken care of in Spain, as he is “seriously ill with Covid and in danger of death”, writes the Spanish daily.

“The delicate request has been analysed at the highest level and, despite the reluctance of the Minister of the Interior, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, it has been given the green light ‘for strictly humanitarian reasons’.

“The delicate request has been analysed at the highest level and, despite the reluctance of the interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, it has been given the green light ‘for strictly humanitarian reasons’,” El País continues, citing diplomatic sources. The daily also refers to the “strategic nature” of Spanish relations with Algeria, the leading supplier of gas to the Spanish market.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Arancha González Laya, had planned to communicate this to her Moroccan counterpart, Nasser Bourita, “but the affair broke out before she could”, writes El País, citing government sources.

Bilateral relations shaken

According to the daily, Madrid has also not digested the fact that Rabat did not warn it of the American recognition of sovereignty over the Sahara and of the Moroccan rapprochement with Israel, which took place on 10 December 2020. These announcements “surprised the Spanish Minister (of Foreign Affairs, editor’s note) on a visit to Israel” on 9 and 10 December.

For the time being, some bilateral meetings “of a technical nature” between Madrid and Rabat have been suspended, as a consequence of the cooling of relations. However, “nothing indicates that the most sensitive areas such as cooperation in the fight against illegal immigration or jihadism have suffered” from this episode.

As for Brahim Ghali, he is said to be recovering from the coronavirus and has been summoned to appear before the judge of the Audiencia Nacional, Spain’s highest court, to be heard. Confounded by the police, Brahim Ghali has been prosecuted in Spain since 2006 for the crime of genocide, murder and torture following a complaint lodged by three Sahrawis who lived in the Tindouf camps.

The man is also the subject of an international arrest warrant issued by the Spanish judiciary in November 2016, a few months after he became head of the Polisario.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.

Hospitalization of Brahim Ghali: Morocco “deplores” Spain’s attitude

In an unequivocal statement, Moroccan diplomacy denounced the attitude of Spain, which welcomed the Polisario leader, Brahim Ghali, for “humanitarian reasons”. The latter had gone to Spain for health reasons.

For Morocco, the authorisation granted by the Spanish authorities is an “act contrary to the spirit of partnership and good neighbourliness” that animates the relations between the two countries. For Moroccan diplomacy, Madrid’s decision raises “incomprehension” and “questions” which are listed in this statement:

  • Why was the so-called Brahim Ghali admitted to Spain on the sly and with a false passport?
  • Why did Spain consider it useful not to inform Morocco?
  • Why did it opt for his admission under a false identity?
  • Why has the Spanish justice system not yet reacted to the numerous complaints lodged by the victims?

Beyond the questions, the communiqué also reveals that the Spanish ambassador in Rabat has been summoned by Moroccan diplomacy to explain “the attitude of his government”.

The Polisario leader Brahim Ghali was admitted for treatment on 21 April in a hospital in Logroño, not far from Zaragoza, Spain. On 23 April, the head of Spanish diplomacy, Arancha González Laya, stated that Madrid’s decision to receive the separatist leader “does not prevent or disturb in any way” relations with Morocco, and will not change the “privileged treatment” with the neighbouring country.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.

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Laws, agreements and practices at the borders

In this section, we provide you with a brief overview of the main agreements between Spain and Morocco and laws applicable at the borders for migrants and minors.

Children in Border and Asylum Procedures: Push Backs of Migrant Children at the Border

The Spanish enclaves Melilla and Ceuta are located in the north of the African continent, and despite their location, are a part of the Kingdom of Spain. Both cities share the only direct land-based border of an EU country with Africa, more precisely with the country of Morocco in North Africa.

This Spanish-Moroccan border as a whole is protected by a barbed-wire fence structure on the Spanish territory. (European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights, 2018). The construction and therefore the protection of the only African-EU land border from irregular migration started in 1990 and was improved in heights and technical surveillance over the years, costing Spain several hundred million euros (some of this amount being the funds from the EU) (Amnesty International, 2015).

Legal Situation

Domestic Legal Framework: Until the end of 2014, Spain lacked legal and accessible procedures to apply for asylum at the border and lacked a legal basis for the implemented push back procedure as it relied on protocols legitimising, but not legalising it.

On the 1 April 2015, the Amendment to the Spanish Organic Law Act 4/2015 was adopted by the addition of the Tenth additional provision on the Special Regime of Ceuta and Melilla which provides a legal basis for the “push-backs”. This Tenth additional provision allows the border officers to reject “foreign nationals who are detected on the border line of the territorial demarcation of Ceuta or Melilla while attempting to overcome the border containment elements in order to cross the border irregularly […] in order to prevent their illegal entry into Spain” (Organic Law Act 4/2015, Tenth additional provision).

Apart from a broad reference to the international human rights and international protection standards, the Special Regime of Ceuta and Melilla does not provide for any specific provisions implementing or requiring a differential treatment of children and acknowledging their unique vulnerability, even in the situation of irregular entry into the Spanish territory.

Spanish-Moroccan Readmission Agreements: In 1992, the Readmission Agreements between Morocco and Spain created a bilateral agreement for the cooperation for the readmission of migrants entering irregularly from Morocco into Spain. These Agreements determined Morocco as the gatekeeper of the external European border.

The readmission procedure, enshrined in Article 1 to 5 of the Agreements, provides that Spain can formally request Morocco to readmit migrants to its territory when these individuals are entering the territory irregularly. Moreover, the Readmission Agreement fails to implement provisions that acknowledge the vulnerability of children and create an obligation for states to implement appropriate measures to safeguard and protect these vulnerabilities.

Migrant Children at the Border

Access to Migrant Protection: Based on the lack of formal and established reception centres for asylum-seekers, many migrant children reside in informal camps and settlements in Morocco (Human Rights Watch, 2014). The majority of children in these camps are of Sub-Saharan origin as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) describes the access to the established legal and safe application procedures for international protection for those as effectively impossible (UNHCR, 2018). The Moroccan authorities control the access to the legal asylum offices at the border. The UNHCR published that during the period between 2014 and 2017 only 35 individuals of Sub-Saharan origin (compared to 11.150 individuals of Middle-Eastern and Northern African origin) applied for asylum (UNHCR, 2018).

This inaccessibility of the regular border procedures leads children of Sub-Saharan African origin to circumvent the existing procedures and to approach the border irregularly hoping to trigger the jurisdictional responsibility of Spain and consequently the obligation to assess their need of protection (European Council on Refugees and Exiles, 2020). If compared with the regular routes, the irregular routes are highly dangerous and go along with a high risk to the life and the well-being of these individuals (La Sexta, 2020).

Access to Child Protection: The Moroccan government does not differentiate between particularly vulnerable groups, in particular children, despite the ratification of the CRC (Human Rights Watch, 2014). The Moroccan authorities, represented by the Moroccan Auxiliary Forces (MAF), indiscriminately expose the children settled in the informal camps to violence regularly (Human Rights Watch, 2014).

According to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, and the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR), this treatment of children who are residing in informal settlements close to the cities of Nador and Oujda amounts itself to ill-treatment and a violation of the prohibition of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment (OHCHR, 2018). Additionally, the CRC Committee is concerned about the implementation of the procedural safeguards enshrined “the best interest of the child” principle, the access to health care, the deteriorating health conditions of children in Migrant Reception Centres and the arrest and detention of refugee and asylum-seeking children (Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2014).

Spain’s Push Backs (Hot Returns)

Definition: “Hot returns” or so-called “Push backs” describe expulsions on a de facto basis and without any procedural guarantees and protection of any person who enters a country irregularly. Notably, “the expulsions without any individual assessment of protection needs have become a documented phenomenon at Europe’s borders, as well as on the territory of Member States further inland. As these practices are widespread, and in some countries systematic, these “push backs” can be considered as part of national policies rather than incidental actions. The highest risk attached to push backs is the risk of refoulement.” (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, 2019).

The individuals are indiscriminately detained, often violently, and through doors and gates in the fence structure pushed back into the Moroccan territory or handed over to Moroccan security forces who frequently use excessive violence (Human Rights Watch, 2014). These expulsions are carried out without any registration and assessment of the migrant´s identity and vulnerabilities as the Spanish authorities do not consider these individuals on their territory and in their jurisdiction (Human Rights Watch, 2014).

The Spanish authorities apply an operational interpretation of borders, which provides the possibility to move the demarcation of the border with the position line of the border officers. As a result of that interpretation, Spain requires individuals to physically cross the line of border officers to legally claim to be present on Spanish territory (Human Rights Watch, 2014).

This conception would allow the Spanish authorities to move the borderline on a case-by-case basis (Jesuit Migrant Service, n.d.) and denies any jurisdictional responsibility for migrants, who, by crossing the territorial border, are physically present on the Spanish territory and are under the effective control of the Spanish authorities (Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2019). This conception of jurisdiction is contrary to the universally accepted and binding concept of jurisdiction, which the ECtHR in its jurisprudence has defined as the exercise of effective control over a person or territory – de facto or de jure (Al-Skeini and others v UK, 2011).

For more information, please consult (in English) the following link.

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Ceuta events, May 2021: News feed and main/latest developments

May 17, 2021

A thousand Moroccans swim to Ceuta [update]

Around a thousand Moroccan migrants have managed to enter the city, including several women and children. According to sources in the government delegation in Ceuta, quoted this Monday evening by EFE. These include 300 Moroccans who may be minors, pending the completion of tests by the Spanish authorities. They told the Spanish agency that this is “one of the most critical days of migration that the city has faced in recent years”, as the number of migrants has exceeded the capacity of the Tarajal industrial warehouse, where they must be kept in quarantine due to Covid-19.

Earlier in the day, the Europa Press agency explained that Moroccan migrants entered Ceuta irregularly during the night and the first hours of Monday, along the breakwaters of the maritime border. Citing Spanish police sources, the agency said the Moroccan security forces were “passive” and did “nothing to stop” the migrants.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.

18 May, 2021

Ceuta – thousands of migrants sent back to Morocco, army deployed at the border

After the arrival of nearly 6,000 migrants in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta on Monday, tensions are running high in northern Morocco. The Spanish authorities have deployed soldiers to the border between the two countries. At the same time, they expelled 2,600 people who had arrived in the enclave the day before.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez promised on Tuesday 18 May to “restore order” in Ceuta after the influx of some 6,000 migrants into the Spanish enclave from neighbouring Morocco the previous day. On Tuesday morning, hundreds of exiles continued to head towards Spanish territory by swimming or walking along the sea. The arrivals continue “but at a lower rate than yesterday (Monday),” the head of government told AFP, without providing precise figures.

Spain deployed the army on Tuesday morning at its border with Morocco. Soldiers are patrolling alongside Spanish police on the outskirts of the territory and inside Ceuta to maintain order in the city’s streets.

Morocco also reinforced its surveillance in the early hours of the day around the border post of Fnideq, a town bordering Ceuta. Moroccan police used tear gas and non-lethal weapons to disperse crowds of people trying to enter the enclave, AFP reporters noted.

2,700 migrants deported

Meanwhile, Spain’s interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, announced on Tuesday that 2,700 migrants – out of the 6,000 disembarked the previous day – had been deported to Morocco and that the deportations were continuing. An agreement signed between Madrid and Rabat allows the Spanish authorities to send back Moroccans who arrived illegally in the enclave.

On arrival in Ceuta, the migrants were transferred to a stadium “with a view to their expulsion”, said the local prefecture.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.

Around a hundred sub-Saharans enter Melilla

After Ceuta, Melilla is also experiencing the arrival of migrants. At around 3.45am (Moroccan time), around 300 sub-Saharans tried to enter the city from the port of Beni N’Sar, reports El Faro de Melilla. A few hours earlier, the president of the city, Edouardo de Castro, announced that he had in fact “ordered the local police to prohibit the access of vehicles through Paseo del Dique Sur (south of the city) to facilitate its control by the state security forces.

The intervention of Moroccan and Spanish public forces prevented around 200 people from climbing the fence, the same publication added, citing “sources at the Government Delegation”. According to the report, 85 men and one woman entered. All of them were immediately presented to the Red Cross services and then transferred to the migrant detention centre.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.

Morocco-Spain crisis – Rabat recalls its ambassador to Madrid for consultations

The disagreement between Rabat and Madrid continues to grow as time goes by. The migratory crisis, which shakes the enclave of Sebta, pushed the Spanish diplomacy to summon the Moroccan ambassador to Spain Karima Benyaich. She was received this afternoon by the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Arancha Gonzales Laya, to clarify what is happening in the enclaves of Sebta and Melila, which are being invaded by huge crowds of migrants from the northern cities of the Kingdom. Although the Spanish news agency EFE has only relayed good words from the head of Spanish diplomacy, who merely dismissed the influx of migrants gently, the Moroccan ambassador has not failed to make Morocco’s position known in an abrupt and unequivocal manner in the wake of the diplomatic crisis between the two countries. “There are acts that have consequences and that must be assumed,” she said in a statement to the Spanish press, adding that there are “attitudes that cannot be accepted.

This prompt exchange between the two leaders is far from calming the diplomatic row between Rabat and Madrid, which started when Brahim Ghali was welcomed on Spanish soil by an Algerian diplomatic passport. Morocco did not hesitate to recall Karima Benyaich, shortly after her meeting with Arancha Gonzales Laya, according to Spanish media such as El Païs or El Mundo, an information confirmed by Moroccan diplomatic sources.

In any case, the Spanish government seems to be tempering its ardour despite the influx of migrants, knowing that Morocco continues to assume its commitments in the fight against clandestine migration. Gendarmerie and auxiliary forces have been patrolling the borders with the Sebta enclave to prevent migrants from entering.

The head of Spanish diplomacy expressed her government’s “desire” to “look to the future” and “prevent such acts from happening again”. However, until the case of Brahim Ghali is resolved, there is no sign of an improvement between the two neighbouring countries in the coming days.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.

May 19, 2021

Sebta: MAP comes out of its silence to denounce Spain’s “betrayal” and “schizophrenia

After three days of silence around the events of Sebta, it is under the pen of its director, Khalil Hachimi Idrissi, that MAP decided to catch up. And it’s going to be all over the place.

What is distressing in the Moroccan-Spanish crisis is that the Spaniards are clumsily pretending to be the victims of a crisis situation for which they are not responsible. Ridiculous!”, begins the article entitled “A little lesson in things”, before going back over the chronology of events that have raised the tension in Moroccan-Spanish relations.

Contacted by TelQuel on 18 May to understand the reasons for the silence of the national press agency while 8,000 people had already crossed the Tajaral border post in less than 24 hours, the director of Maghreb Arabe Presse, Khalil Hachimi Idrissi, assured that he would only broadcast information “when the government has finished settling its position”, arguing that “one cannot fabricate a position as long as it does not yet exist”.

In his long article, Khalil Hachimi Idrissi recalls the facts chronologically, from Brahim Ghali’s hospitalisation in Spain to the influx of migrants into the Spanish enclave of Sebta, and does not lack qualifiers for the behaviour of our northern neighbours.

The information is sacred, the commentary is (very) free

“They receive, for humanitarian reasons they say, a war criminal – Brahim Ghali, leader of a Polisario at war with Morocco – who is acting on behalf of Algeria to attack the territorial integrity of Morocco, and who moreover is requested by their own jurisdictions. This is quite exceptional, the director of MAP points out. With Algeria’s complicity, the war criminal in question is brought in with a real-false Algerian passport in the name of Mohamed Ben Batouche, he is installed in the Logroño hospital and we hope that the secret will be well kept, especially with regard to the Moroccans.

And he points to Madrid’s “confounding naivety”, playing the irony card: “Our Spanish friends should at least explain to us the intelligence of this strategy. Its geopolitical soundness. Its diplomatic subtlety. Its quintessence in terms of partnership, friendship and well understood interests.

“A real betrayal”

“Is the quantity – as our Iberian friends say – of security relations between Morocco and Spain so insignificant as to be written off and put on the back burner to accommodate Mohamed Ben Batouche? We need to find the master strategist who came up with this idea to award him the medal of the useful idiot of the year. It’s appalling,” says the head of the national news agency.

“But what do they expect from Morocco? To be a state without charisma, without legitimacy, without interests, without national pride or without history “Khalil Hachimi Idrissi, director of MAP

And to extend to Europe and its “broken charm”, “member states on a drip of euros without any awareness of a shared destiny”, capable of “puerile rantings towards third countries”. “But what do they expect from Morocco? To be a state without charisma, without legitimacy, without interests, without national pride or without history. To say yes to Madrid and its ridiculous lies, to say yes to Brussels and its subsidies, to say yes to Berlin and its aborted neo-colonial complex, and then what?” says Khalil Hachimi Idrissi.

“It would be suicidal for us to continue to go along with people who are not loyal, who are hypocrites, liars, who stick a knife in your back at the first opportunity, who are incapable of building a balanced strategic alliance based on well understood interests. There is nothing to be done. It now appears that this path is blocked. The Sebta affair is a return of reality to a fantasised relationship,” he said.

“A total schizophrenia”

“In the past, honourable governments have resigned for less. But here, it is the reign of amateurism, the time of honour is over. The mise en abyme is perfect when the Spaniards talk about the territorial integrity of Spain when it comes to Sebta. Their tremolos in their voices are touching,” notes Khalil Hachimi Idrissi, referring to Madrid’s vague position on Moroccan territorial integrity. “What about the territorial integrity of the kingdom and its sovereignty over its southern provinces? No! No parallelism in sight, no similarities, no convergence or no rapprochement of ideas. The schizophrenia is total.

And he concludes: “Pedro Sanchez’s poor government is driving straight into the wall, honking its horn.”

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.

Mustapha Ramid: “Spain has favoured the Polisario and Algeria”

The Minister of State for Human Rights, Mustapha Ramid, expressed himself on his Facebook page about the tensions between Morocco and Spain. For him, Madrid has shown a totally irresponsible and unacceptable attitude.

Mustapha Ramid is the first member of the government to express himself on the tensions between Morocco and Spain, in the wake of the border crisis between Fnideq and Sebta.

The Minister of State for Human Rights believes that the reception by Spain of the Polisario leader in one of its hospitals, under a false identity, was done in disregard of good neighbourliness which requires coordination and consultation. For him, this is a totally irresponsible and unacceptable act.

Mustapha Ramid also wondered what Spain expected by welcoming the leader of a militia that bears arms against a neighbouring country. He was surprised by the secrecy of this operation and questioned Spain’s intentions in trying to preserve Brahim Ghali’s identity.

He also wondered what Madrid’s reaction would have been if it had been Morocco that had taken such a step. For him, it is clear that Spain has favoured its relations with the Polisario and Algeria rather than Morocco.

He concluded that Morocco has made many sacrifices for the sake of its neighbourly relationship with Spain, and that its reaction to the failure to respect reciprocity is entirely legitimate.

Mustapha Ramid therefore calls on Madrid to review its neighbourhood policy with Morocco and to show respect.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.

Ceuta: “Europe will not be intimidated by anyone”

Europe “will not let itself be intimidated by anyone” on the issue of migration, European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas said on Wednesday, referring to the influx of thousands of migrants from Morocco into the Spanish enclave of Ceuta.

In a clear reference to Morocco, Schinas said in an interview with Spanish public radio that Europe would “not be a victim of these tactics”.

“Ceuta is Europe, this border is a European border and what is happening there is not Madrid’s problem, it is the problem of all” Europeans, said Mr Schinas, speaking in Spanish.

Brussels had already expressed solidarity with Spain on Tuesday and called on Morocco, through the voice of European Commissioner Ylva Johansson, to prevent “irregular departures” from its territory.

“No one can intimidate or blackmail the European Union,” said Schinas, who recalled that there had already been “a few attempts by third countries (…) over the last 15 months to instrumentalise” the migration issue.

“We cannot tolerate this,” he said, referring to Turkey by name.

According to the latest figures from the Spanish government, nearly 8,000 migrants have entered Ceuta illegally since Monday morning. About 4,000 have already been sent back to Morocco, according to the same source.

Against the backdrop of a major diplomatic crisis with Morocco, linked to the reception in Spain for treatment of the leader of the Sahrawi independence movement Polisario Front, the Spanish government responded on Tuesday by summoning the Moroccan ambassador to express its “displeasure” with the arrival of these thousands of migrants.

Morocco immediately recalled its ambassador to Rabat “for consultation”.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.

Moroccan Human Rights Organisation calls on Spanish authorities to respect the asylum agreement

The Moroccan Organisation for Human Rights is following with great concern the events in the two occupied cities in the north of the Kingdom (Melilla and Ceuta in particular), which have been taking place since last Monday.
The organization said in a statement, a copy of which was received by Shamspost: “Based on reports from its members in Tetouan, Tangier, Nador and Oujda, on the one hand, and on the other hand, based on films recorded by citizens, immigrants, and asylum seekers in the vicinity or within the two cities, as well as live testimonies, the Moroccan Organization for Human Rights has recorded the drowning of a young man in the waters of the sea bordering the city of Fnideq.

The organisation also recorded, as stated in the report: “Thousands of migrants, immigrants and asylum seekers have been expelled by the Spanish army; The use of excessive violence by the Spanish army, including beatings with sticks, kicks and even the use of tear gas and live ammunition, according to some testimonies, has also been recorded, in addition to practices that degrade human dignity and the expulsion of a group of asylum seekers despite their presentation as such to the Spanish Red Crescent…Hundreds of children are being deported without taking into account their best interests,” the communication added. The report also highlighted “the limited number of employees to receive this category, the thousands of young Moroccans, migrants and immigrants from all over Morocco who have flocked to the northern cities and the use of unofficial signals to deepen the differences between Morocco and Spain, and even the European Union.

The organisation confirmed, according to the same communication, “its disapproval of what the Spanish authorities have done regarding the asylum applications submitted by Yemenis, Syrians and sub-Saharan countries suffering from political unrest”. It called on the Spanish authorities to respect the 1951 Refugee Convention and to accept the applications of the rest of those who have entered the two cities.
And it called for the need for the Spanish authorities to respect the best interests of the child, both in relation to the inhumane treatment of the children with whom they have been treated or in relation to their expulsion.

The Moroccan authorities in the regions of Tangier-Tetouan, Al Hoceima and Al-Sharqia have called for increased efforts to find radical solutions for those directly and indirectly affected by the smuggling of livelihoods.

For more information, please consult (in Arabic) the following link. To see some videos of the situation at the border, please see here and here. (disclaimer: the videos contains some sensitive content that the viewers might find distressing and disturbing)

Spain/Morocco: Migrants are abused and used as “pawns” at the Ceuta border

Children beaten by Spanish guards after the border gates were opened. The clash appears to be a “retaliation” by Morocco to the medical treatment of a separatist leader in Spain.

The violations committed in Spain are also those committed in the EU” – Virginia Álvarez

Amnesty International has denounced the mistreatment of migrants by Spanish security forces and the army at the border with Morocco in the Spanish territory of Ceuta, located in North Africa. Many people – including children – have been abused by Spanish security forces, including being thrown into the sea, after Morocco opened its borders.

Recent video footage appears to show Moroccan border guards waving migrants through their controls in Ceuta. More than 8,000 people – including about 2,000 unaccompanied children – have entered Ceuta from Morocco. In many cases, they have been subject to collective expulsion. Amnesty reminds the authorities that they must ensure that the best interests of the child are protected in all cases and that these young people should be able to apply for international protection if necessary.

Around 5,000 people have reportedly been collectively deported to Morocco by the Spanish authorities in recent days. Spanish military forces deployed at the border have carried out collective and forced returns without safeguards, making it impossible to identify vulnerable people or ensure that they receive adequate information or legal assistance.

It seems that migrants are being used as pawns in a political game between Morocco and Spain. A Facebook post by the Moroccan Minister of Human Rights indicates that the opening of the border was done in “retaliation” for the medical treatment a Polisario leader received in Spain, suggesting that Moroccan authorities may have used the migrants as part of an international dispute.

Morocco has a long history of violating migrants’ rights at this border. In the past, Amnesty has documented illegal raids, arrests and forced evictions of migrants from camps and houses near the Spanish borders into southern Morocco.

Virginia Álvarez, internal policy officer at Amnesty International Spain, said:

“We cannot accept that people, including children, are being beaten by Spanish forces. Border officials have provided emergency assistance to people, but the abuse cannot be tolerated. The Spanish authorities must launch a full investigation and ensure that those responsible are held to account.”

“EU leaders have been 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 European leaders not to turn a blind eye to the abuses taking place at the EU’s borders.”

“Morocco is playing with people’s lives. It must not use people, including its own citizens, as pawns in a political game.”

For more information, please consult (in English) the following link.

May 20, 2021

Sebta: Spanish Defence Minister accuses Morocco of “aggression” and “blackmail

The Spanish government has raised its voice against Morocco, accused of “aggression” and “blackmail” by the Minister of Defence after the arrival of more than 8,000 migrants in Sebta earlier this week.

The influx of these migrants from neighbouring Morocco is “an aggression against the Spanish borders, but also against the borders of the European Union”, Margarita Robles denounced on public radio, denouncing “blackmail” by Rabat, which she accused of “using minors”.

As a reminder, between Monday and Wednesday, around 8,000 would-be migrants – an unprecedented influx – reached the Spanish enclave of Sebta, taking advantage of a relaxation of border controls on the Moroccan side, against the backdrop of a diplomatic crisis between Madrid and Rabat. Migrants talk to Spanish civil guards after swimming to the Spanish enclave of Sebta from neighbouring Morocco, 17 May 2021.

Return to calm

Calm has returned on Thursday 20 May after night clashes between young people determined to reach Europe and police at the exit of Fnideq, according to AFP journalists.

After a turbulent night, the border crossing was deserted on Thursday morning. On the Spanish side, there was no movement on the beach of Tarajal, which was being walked by Spanish soldiers and two armoured vehicles, according to journalists on both sides of the border.

For more information, please consult (the French) the following link.

Ceuta crisis – Washington and Paris adopt a balanced position between Morocco and Spain – Le Desk

Le Desk publishes an article exploring the reactions of France and the United States to the events in Ceuta. Contrary to expectations, Paris decided to remain neutral: “We have carefully followed the events in Ceuta, which remind us of the importance and topicality of the migration issue. We have confidence in the action of the Spanish government, which has the support of the whole of the European Union, to allow a rapid return to normality in Ceuta,” said the Quai d’Orsay spokesperson on 19 May.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.

Moroccan minors who arrived in Ceuta spend their nights on the streets

The situation of Moroccan minors who arrived in Ceuta remains worrying to say the least. While some are spread out in various shelters and industrial buildings in the city, others wander the streets of the city without money or food and sometimes have to sleep in parks or abandoned factories, writes the Spanish channel Antena 3 on Wednesday evening.

Some parents, not knowing what has happened to their children since they left for Ceuta, have approached the border crossing to try to see them. The Spanish authorities have set up a special telephone number for those wishing to make enquiries.

Antena 3 adds that the minors who have arrived in Ceuta in the last three days are being tested for the coronavirus, saying that “some of them have tested positive” without specifying how many. The central government and the autonomous communities have reached an agreement to offer around 200 places to unaccompanied migrant minors who were already in Ceuta before the mass arrival of new minors.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.

956512413 is the telephone number for families looking for Moroccan children

956512413: This is the telephone number that has been set up in Ceuta for Moroccan families who are looking for minors who have entered our city to call, as many of them have returned without informing their families directly.

It will be the child protection service of the autonomous city that will manage this difficult task, that of gathering the unaccompanied minors who have arrived en masse in Ceuta in the last three days with their families. They cannot be returned, as is done with adults, and the debate is open as to what to do with them, since our city cannot assist or support the kind of migratory pressure that currently exists.

Thus, the process is long and difficult, these minors are not documented and it is necessary to formalise a reunion with parents who claim them, to verify with documents that they are their children and to hand them over.

There are many Moroccan families on the other side of the border who call Ceuta -institutions, NGOs, individuals, acquaintances, media…- to find out about their children. Many minors left for Tarajal beach without their parents’ knowledge, also encouraged by friends or lies that they were going for some kind of adventure with the risk that this entails.

With this, 956512413 is the official phone number that these families have to call to find out what happened to these minors, whose fathers and mothers on the other side of the border do not know what happened to them. There are repeated testimonies of desperation to know where their children are and this telephone number is the starting point to start giving official information, also with the aim of reunification.

It should be remembered that this Wednesday an extraordinary session of the Territorial Council of Social Services was held due to the migratory crisis that Ceuta is experiencing and that the Government of the Nation has proposed to the communities to take in around 200 minors, without specifying yet if this will finally be achieved.

For more information, please consult (in Spanish) the following link.

Rabat does not accept Madrid’s attempts to hide the real origin of the crisis

Spain has tried in recent days to divert the attention of public opinion and has engaged in maneuvers to hide the true origin of the Moroccan-Spanish crisis, which lies in the fact that Madrid preferred to scheme with Morocco’s opponents on a fundamental issue for the Kingdom and Moroccans, said Minister of Foreign Affairs, African Cooperation and Moroccans Living Abroad, Nasser Bourita.

The Spanish manoeuvres aim at making victims of those responsible for this crisis, the minister said in a statement to MAP, recalling that if there is a crisis between Morocco and Spain, it is because Madrid has decided, in a sovereign way, to manoeuvre with the Kingdom’s enemies and to welcome on its territory someone who “wages war on a daily basis in Morocco”.

Spain has acted in this regard in a way that raises many questions about a respectable neighbouring state, by agreeing to enter into all these shenanigans, he continued, adding that the beginning of the crisis dates back to 17 April and that since then, Spain and its justice system have preferred to look the other way in relation to the presence on Spanish territory of someone accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of rape and serious violations of human rights, going so far as to provide him with a false identity.
Morocco-Spain: The Kingdom recalls its ambassador to Madrid, Karima Benyaich, for consultations

All the Spanish manoeuvres to divert attention from the real origins of this crisis “do not deceive anyone, in any case do not deceive and do not impress Morocco,” said the minister.

Bourita said, in this context, that the Spanish authorities “must first be transparent with their own public opinion and with their own forces,” stressing that it is not with reports and insults and media bombardment that this reality will be hidden.

“Morocco will continue to ask for clarifications and will continue to consider that this is the bottom of the crisis,” he insisted, noting that the logic of humanitarianism no longer deceives anyone.

Humanitarianism has never dictated that we go through shenanigans. Humanitarianism is not done in secret, said Bourita, who called on Spain to acknowledge and assume “its serious attitudes” and avoid “double talk”. “Morocco is not blackmailing, Morocco is clear about its positions, its actions and its attitude,” Bourita explained.

The minister condemned the “unprecedented media hostility” launched in Spain against Morocco. “We are witnessing an instrumentalisation and a mobilisation of all the media with shocking and unacceptable terms sometimes coming from high officials,” he noted. The terms used in this campaign, such as “blackmail”, “aggression” or “underdeveloped country”, show that “some circles in Spain must update their knowledge about Morocco”, he noted.

“Morocco today is not the Morocco of yesterday, Morocco does not have a problem,” the minister said. Proud of its achievements, Morocco is a country in development and Spain knows it, said Bourita, adding that it is “these reflexes of the past that are revealed today and which show this gap between Morocco in the Spanish imagination and Morocco in reality.

Some people in Spain, he said, cannot admit that the Kingdom has preserved its stability and ensured its economic progress and social development through the reforms carried out under the leadership of His Majesty the King.

“It is time to clarify all this and for Spain to define what it wants from this partnership,” Bourita said.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.

Diplomatic crisis: Moroccan ambassador will not return to Madrid, warns Bourita

The Moroccan ambassador to Spain, Karima Benyaich, called by the kingdom this week for consultations, “will not return as long as the causes of the crisis persist” between Morocco and Spain, said Thursday the head of Moroccan diplomacy. Nasser Bourita, who was hosting a restricted meeting with the press, referred to the reception by Madrid of the Polisario Front Secretary General, Brahim Ghali, “in conditions unworthy of a state governed by the rule of law” and his failure to appear before the Spanish justice system, writes the Spanish agency EFE.
In this first official reaction from Morocco, the Minister of Foreign Affairs indicated that this wave was due to “a context of fatigue of the Moroccan police after the end of the Ramadan festivities” but also to “the total inaction of the Spanish police” which, according to him, is deployed at a rate of “one policeman for every hundred Moroccan agents in the border areas.
Moreover, the head of Moroccan diplomacy has repeatedly regretted “the hostile campaign” in the Spanish media, both public and private, against Morocco. “The Spanish media attack against Morocco on the basis of fake news cannot hide the real cause of the crisis, which is the reception by Madrid of the leader of the separatist militia with a false identity,” he added to MAP. He noted, in this sense, that “discussions on the weak development of the Kingdom betray old perceptions of the northern neighbour,” recalling that Morocco has achieved stable growth rates despite the crisis.
Bourita assured that “Morocco does not accept the duality of the rhetoric and positions of Madrid” which must “realise that the Morocco of today is not the one of yesterday”. “Some circles in Spain must refresh their vision of Morocco,” he said, calling on Madrid to “show transparency towards Spanish public opinion.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.

For more information on Morocco’s latest official declaration, please consult (in French) the following links: here and here.

May 21, 2021

Ceuta: Moroccan journalist arrested and released on suspicion of crime

Fatima Zahra Rajmi, a journalist with the Moroccan website Chouf TV, was released late on Friday by Spanish police in Ceuta, who arrested her after she had been in the enclave for several days. She was covering the border situation, in the context of the massive arrival of several thousand people from Morocco. According to the local Spanish media El Faro de Ceuta, her arrest was ordered by the criminal court of Almeria. She was transferred to this court to be informed of the suspension of a decision against her. She was then released.

Earlier in the day, the Spanish Civil Guard arrested the journalist. According to the same media outlet, Fatima Zahra Rajmi, who has Spanish nationality, was “spreading lies” that would have angered the town’s inhabitants. The local news website added that the journalist was not arrested because of her coverage of the events, but because “she was wanted by a Spanish court on suspicion of being involved in a crime”.

The same source reported that prior to her arrest, the journalist had visited various locations in Ceuta over the past few days. She reportedly interviewed many migrants, “spread lies” and “questioned the behaviour of the Spanish security forces and their services”.

During her coverage of the events, Fatima Zahra Rajmi reportedly suggested that Spanish agents had “raped Moroccan women”. She repeatedly referred to the enclave as an occupied city, which seems to have angered local Spanish officials, ChoufTV reports. On social networks, there have been calls for her release.

In Morocco, the SNPM has taken up the cause

The National Union of the Moroccan Press (SNPM) said the arrest took place when the journalist was about to leave the enclave for Algeciras to cover a sit-in held outside the Moroccan consulate. During this operation, which was marked by a large deployment of police, according to the SNPM, Fatima Zahra Ajmi was handcuffed and taken to a police station, then placed in custody.

Although the Spanish media link her arrest to an investigation unrelated to her coverage, the SNPM maintains the opposite in its press release. In particular, it referred to the use of the term “occupied city” and its choice to focus on the abuse of migrants by the Spanish police. The union contested an “arbitrary arrest which reflects the narrowness of the colonial authorities towards anyone who denounces the serious violations and abuses committed by the security forces and elements of the Spanish army against the rights of people entering the occupied Moroccan city”.

While demanding the release of the journalist, the SNPM stressed “the lack of respect for freedom of the press and expression by these authorities and the restriction of the work of journalists, for fear of denouncing the systematic violations of the rights of people, including minors”.

Prior to the announcement of the release, the SNPM informed that it had approached the International Federation of Journalists to support the journalist’s request for release. It added that it was also preparing to contact the Spanish press unions to join the campaign.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link .

A group of Moroccan youths succeed in breaking into Melilla

A group of Moroccans made several attempts to enter Melilla on Thursday night. Elements of the Spanish Guardia Civil responded with violence against these migrants, including by throwing tear gas canisters towards the Moroccan border, a local NGO reported.

According to the Moroccan Association for Human Rights, Nador section, a dozen Moroccans managed to get into the neighbouring town of Melilla.

“Despite the security measures taken by the Moroccan and Spanish sides, dozens of Moroccans managed to enter Melilla, among them Moroccans who joined their families inside Melilla,” the NGO said in a post on its Facebook account.

It also reported clashes between Moroccan security forces and young migrants, particularly in Barrio Chino.

“A long night of attempts at the border with Melilla. Groups of Moroccans have made several attempts to cross the barrier in Mari Ouari, Farkhana, Bario Chino and Beni Ensar,” the Nador-based NGO said.

The human rights association also warned of “acts of violence by the Guardia Civil against these young people”, claiming that the Spanish forces of order used “tear gas thrown even beyond the barrier” forming the border between the two cities.

In a publication earlier in the evening, the AMDH Nador section shared testimonies of the events recorded around 1am near the Mari Ouari border post.

It “was not a serious attempt to cross the barrier to Melilla by the population of Mari Ouari,” the NGO said, noting that it was a gathering of a dozen Moroccan youths in this bordering neighborhood and that none of them jumped the barrier.

“The authorities in Melilla activated the vigilance system, which pushed the population to go out to observe what was happening on the other side of the barrier,” the AMDH added.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.

Karima Benyaich: If Ghali is exfiltrated by Spain, it will cause the situation to worsen

In a statement read out on Friday 21 May at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the ambassador stressed that what is happening with Ghali “is a test of the independence of Spanish justice, in which we have full confidence”, but also another test of whether Spain “opts to strengthen its relations with Morocco or prefers to collaborate with its enemies”.

For Ambassador Karima Benyaich, “Spain has unfortunately opted for opacity, acting behind Morocco’s back, welcoming and protecting this criminal and torturer, using humanitarian reasons as a pretext and thus undermining the dignity of the Moroccan people”.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.

Spain: The Algerian doctor accompanying Brahim Ghali died in 2010

Four weeks after Brahim Ghali’s hospitalization in Spain, Iberian media have been interested in the Algerian doctor accompanying the Polisario leader. According to official documents presented to the administration of the San Pedro hospital in Logroño, his name is Mohamed Seghir Nekkache, who works at the military hospital in Algiers (Aïn Naaja). Disturbingly, the person in question died in 2010, according to El Independiente and El Confidencial.

Dr Nekkache, the first Health Minister of independent Algeria, was highly regarded by Algerian officials. On 1 November 2002, on the occasion of the 48th anniversary of the country’s independence, he received a certificate and the medal of merit from former health minister Abdelhamid Aberkane. In 2010, on the occasion of his death at the age of 92, former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika sent a message of condolence to the family of the deceased.

This fake doctor “Nekkache” was present on 11 May when the Spanish police presented Brahim Ghali with a new summons from the investigating judge of the National Court. The Polisario leader insisted that a copy be given to the Algerian doctor who has accompanied him since his hospitalisation in Logroño.

For more information, please consult the following link.

May 22, 2021

Death of a Moroccan in Ceuta: a Moroccan association demands an investigation

The body of a young Moroccan man who was trying to reach the Spanish enclave of Ceuta was recovered from the sea last Thursday. The Northern Observatory for Human Rights (ONDH) is calling for an investigation.

Saber Azouz, a young Moroccan man aged 20, died at sea. According to his family, “traces of blood were found on his clothes”, said the Northern Observatory for Human Rights (ONDH) in a statement published on its Facebook page, demanding “that the deliberate murder of this defenceless migrant be elucidated”. According to the association, the Spanish forces are the presumed perpetrators of this murder. In the eyes of the ONDH, Morocco is “responsible for not ensuring a decent life for its citizens” and for having “exploited migration for political ends”, reports AFP.

More than 8,000 people, including 2,700 minors, crossed the border between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Ceuta between Monday and Tuesday. More than 6,000 were deported to Morocco. A migratory crisis with an air of retaliation on the part of the Moroccan authorities. Since the emergency admission of Polisario Secretary General Brahim Ghali to a hospital in Logroño, under the assumed name of Mohamed Ben Battouche, of Algerian nationality, tensions have risen between the two countries.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.

Moroccans thrown into the sea by Spanish military

Beaten and thrown into the water, several migrants who arrived in Sebta in recent days were subjected to “inhumane” treatment. A video, published on 18 May on social networks, shows Spanish soldiers violently pushing them into the sea.

In the last few days, media have reported, without providing proof, that migrants, especially minors, have been abused by Spanish soldiers. The video submitted is taken from a video report broadcast on 18 May 2021 by the local newspaper El Faro de Ceuta. The images are therefore very current and show the intervention of the army and the Spanish Civil Guard police, who are trying to control the border that thousands of migrants, mainly Moroccans, have crossed since the beginning of the week.

This type of violence and mistreatment violates human rights. Several organisations have denounced the brutality and violence with which the police have pushed the migrants back.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.

May 23, 2021

Gonzalez Laya: “Before leaving Spain, Brahim Ghali must answer to legal proceedings

According to Reuters, Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said on Sunday 23 May that “the leader of the Polisario must answer to legal proceedings in Spain before leaving the country”.

“Gonzalez Laya said that when Ghali has recovered from his health problems, he should answer to a case before the Spanish High Court before returning to his own country,” the agency said.

“We promised to give this person a humanitarian response. This person was in a critical situation for his multiple health problems, including a serious case of COVID-19,” it told Spanish National Radio.

“When he recovers, he will return to his country [sic]. In the meantime, he is facing a series of legal cases and we hope that he will fulfil his obligations to Spanish justice. “

Ghali is facing a summons to appear in Spain in a case of war crimes, rape and torture. The Spanish minister’s statement constitutes, despite its shortcomings, a change in the Spanish posture. Morocco has succeeded in putting the crisis into its true context, that of the secret reception under a false identity of a man who is waging a war (in the true sense of the word) in the Kingdom, and who is the subject of serious complaints in Spain.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.