Spanish PM’s motorcade attacked by angry locals in Ceuta as army pushes back against thousands of migrants rushing coast

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Left-wing Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s motorcade was attacked by angry locals as he arrived in Ceute, which is ground-zero for a rapidy developing migrant crisis. 

Thousands of additional migrants are believed to be heading to the Spanish enclave of Ceute after a record number of about 6,000 migrants arrived across the sea on Monday.

Dramatic video of locals attacking Sanchez’s motorcade has gone viral, with police pushing back against a crowd who kicked the vehicles and hurled projectiles. 

Locals are blaming Sanchez for lax border policies which many believe are fueling the surge of migrants.

Video of the Spanish army pushing back against migrants has made national news in Spain and spread across social media. 

Some of the illegal migrants have already been returned by the authorities, but thousands more are trying to reach to Spain. Tthe government has responded by deploying armored vehicles and soldiers, but as many as 2,000 unaccompanied minors are still roaming the streets in the area. In the meantime, the European Commission calls on Morocco to help calm the situation, the local El Faro de Ceuta daily reported on Tuesday. 

Due to the aggravated situation caused by the diplomatic rift with Morocco, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez canceled his trip to France.

On Tuesday, tensions were rising at the Ceuta border, with groups on the Moroccan side throwing stones at police officers, who responded with tear gas.

Monday’s wave of migrants to Ceuta, with a population of about 84,000, was unprecedented, according to El País. It was a daily record in the number of migrants who entered Spain. Until now, one of the records was, for example, the arrival of 2,000 migrants to the Canary Islands on Nov. 7 and Nov. 8 last year.

Although Sanchez’s convoy was attacked, the Vox Party’s leader, Santiago Abascal, known for his tough stance on immigration and promotion of strong borders, was warmly received at a rally in Ceuta. 

The Spanish government fears that the mass influx of migrants to Ceuta is far from over. The Moroccan security forces have stopped preventing people from crossing the border. The Moroccan government has not yet commented on Monday’s events.

Brussels is also “closely following” the events in Ceuta. On Tuesday, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson called on Morocco to live up to its border control commitments and stop the “unprecedented” wave of migrants.

“Spanish borders are European borders. The EU wants to build relations with Morocco based on trust and shared commitments. Migration is a key element in this regard,” Johansson said in the European Parliament.

Margaritis Schinas, vice-president of the European Commission, responsible for migration issues, also commented on the matter.

“Full solidarity with Spain. We need a European political pact on migration: agreements with third countries, massive protection of our borders, solidarity between the EU member states and a policy of legal migration,” Schinas, who comes from Greece, which also faces a migration wave, wrote on Twitter.

The current situation is the result of a diplomatic crisis between Madrid and Rabat, caused by the revelation that, under a false identity, Spain provided medical care to Brahim Ghali, the leader of the Polisario separatist organization. Ghali leads insurgents in Western Sahara seeking independence from Morocco, which already in 1991 promised to hold a referendum on self-determination of the area. So far, the referendum has not happened. Ghali, 73, was admitted to a hospital in the northern Spanish city of Logrono last month with Covid-19.

Polisario now controls less than a quarter of Western Sahara, where desert covers most of the territory. However, phosphate deposits are located in the north of the area. Western Sahara used to be a colony and later a province of Spain, which withdrew from the territory in the 1970s.

According to the El Faro de Ceuta daily, migrants are flowing into the enclave now, among other things, because the news spread a few days ago that the Moroccan government had opened the border for a few days.

Among the 6,000 migrants who arrived in Ceuta on Monday are mainly young men, and at least 1,500 are minors, which complicates repatriation. On Tuesday, Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska announced that the government had already returned 2,700 people.

According to Cadena SER radio, a young Moroccan died in an attempt to cross to Ceuta on Monday, and two other people were rescued by Spanish authorities.

Ceuta and Melilla, the other Spanish enclave in Africa, are usually reached by migrants from Morocco who en masse climb high border fences so that security forces do not have time to detain them all. In such cases, however, there are hundreds of people at most. One of the largest mass attempts took place on the border of Ceuta in July 2018, when 850 migrants tried to cross the fence at once.

According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 9,200 migrants arrived in Spain via various routes by May 9. Last week, 4,950 refugees also arrived in the Spanish Canary Islands.

Title image: Spanish Army soldiers clash with migrants near the border of Morocco and Spain, at the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

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