0643 GMT January 29, 2022
Live footage on Spain’s public broadcaster TVE showed dramatic scenes of soldiers carrying children in their arms and Red Cross personnel helping migrants who were emerging from the water shivering and exhausted. One unconscious woman laid on the sand before she was carried away on a stretcher, AP reported.
The sudden influx of migrants has deepened the diplomatic spat between Rabat and Madrid and created a humanitarian crisis for Ceuta, the Spanish city of 85,000 that lies in North Africa on the Mediterranean Sea, separated from Morocco by a double-wide, 10-meter (32-foot) fence.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez canceled a trip to Paris, where he was to attend a summit on international aid to Africa, to focus on the crisis with Morocco.
By Tuesday morning, at least 6,000 sea-soaked people had crossed the border into Ceuta since the first arrivals began early Monday, the Spanish government said, including 1,500 thought to be teenagers. The number getting in slowed but didn't stop Tuesday as Spain deployed additional police and soldiers to the border.
Some 2,700 adults were already returned to Morocco from the latest surge, according to Spain's Interior Ministry. Morocco and Spain signed an agreement three decades ago to return all those who swim across the border.
By Tuesday afternoon, Moroccan authorities closed the road leading to the border post with Ceuta and riot police dispersed crowds of would-be migrants. Neither the government in Rabat nor local officials have commented about the mass influx or responded to queries by The Associated Press.
“It’s such a strong invasion that we are not able to calculate the number of people that have entered,” said Juan Jesús Vivas, the president of Ceuta, an autonomous city of about 20 square kilometers (7.7 square miles).
“The army is in the border in a deterrent role, but there are great quantities of people on the Moroccan side waiting to enter,” he told Cadena SER radio.
One young man drowned and dozens were treated for hypothermia. The arriving adults were being transferred to Ceuta’s main soccer stadium as they waited to be returned to Morocco while those thought to be minors were sent to warehouses run by the Red Cross and other groups.
Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska denied local media reports saying that unaccompanied migrants under 18, who are allowed to remain legally under the tutelage of Spanish authorities, were being deported.
The European Union’s top migration official – Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson – described the incidents as “worrying,” and she called on Morocco to prevent people from setting out in the first place.
“The most important thing now is that Morocco continues to commit to prevent irregular departures, and that those who do not have the right to stay are orderly and effectively returned,” Johansson told members of the European Parliament.
“Spanish borders are European borders. The European Union wants to build a relationship with Morocco based on trust and shared commitments. Migration is a key element in this,” she said.
Many African migrants regard Ceuta and nearby Melilla, another Spanish territory, as a gateway into Europe. In 2020, 2,228 chose to cross into the two enclaves by sea or land, often risking injuries or death. The year before the figure hit 7,899.
On Tuesday, another 80 African migrants also crossed into Melilla, 350 kilometers (218 miles) east of Ceuta, by jumping over the enclave’s double fence.