Frosty Relations Between Spain and Morocco

Frosty Relations Between Spain and Morocco


The Spanish-Moroccan relations have worsened during the last couple of weeks. An estimated 8000 migrants have arrived in Spain in the last two weeks from Moroccan territory. Of these, it is estimated that 1500 are children. Immigrants arrive in Ceuta, a Spanish city on the African continent that borders Morocco. The Spanish authorities say that one-third of the immigrants have now been returned to Morocco, while some reports say it is closer to 6,500 migrants that have been returned. An investigation has been launched after a video showed a young boy that appears to be deported by Spanish border police. To deport minors is illegal in Spain as well as mass deportation.

According to Morocco’s Foreign Affairs Minister Nasser Bourit Spain created the current migration crisis by hosting the Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali while he is being treated for Covid-19. Polisario Front is an armed group that is fighting for self-determination of West Sahara, a region that is seen by many as the last colony in Africa. The territory is south of Morocco and was previously a Spanish colony but is now claimed by Morocco. Morocco’s claim is debated and in 1975, the International Court of Justice found no legal support for it. Despite this Morocco established a presence in West Sahara. For the last 30 years, there has been a cease-fire between Polisario Front and Morocco, but it was broken recently.

Morocco wants Brahim Ghali to stand trial for war crime and as a result, has eased their border control toward Spain. In a Facebook post, the Moroccan Human Rights Minister El Mustapha Ramid wrote that Spain knows “that the price of underestimating” Morocco. Some argue that this migrant crisis was caused by Spain while others argue that Morocco has “weaponized” migration for political gain, especially towards the EU. EU Commissioner Margaritis Schinas has said “No one can intimidate or blackmail the European Union”. Nasser Bourit has stated that Morocco’s conflict is with Spain, not the EU. However, he also said that Morocco has no duty to protect the EU border and that Morocco’s trafficking policies are keeping the migration at bay in Europa yet the EU only covers around 20% of the associated cost.

Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said that she wants the tension with Morocco to end as soon as possible and that Ghali will answering all legal charges against him. According to Reuters, Brahim Ghal has now been served for a preliminarily hearing on the 1st of June. As a result, Morocco has regained its border control toward Spain. While the relationship between Spain and Morocco is warming up again, the recent events have shown that the EU still has a weakness with its migration policy. Virginia Álvarez, Head of Internal Policy at Amnesty International Spain says “Morocco is playing with people’s lives”. European fears and unwillingness to deal with larger immigration issues borders have enabled a situation where migrants have become a bargaining chip that can be used by countries bordering the EU. As Hanne Beirens, Director of the Migration Policy Institute, told Associated Press “Today, if as a third country you hold a migration card in your hand, you’re a powerful player”. As long as the EU is ‘outsourcing’ its migration control, this will be an issue.

While the Spanish-Moroccan relation deteriorated earlier this month, steps have been taken by both countries to reach a resolution. Hopefully, all parties will open discussions about not only the west Saharan conflict but also safe migration. The immigration flow to Spain has highlighted issues with the EU’s migrant policy, both political and economic aspect that needs to be handled on a regional level. It is important immigrants hope for a better life and the dangerous route this may lead to, is not allowed to become a political bargaining chip.