8,000 Migrants cross from Morocco to Spain: The New Pawns of a Diplomatic Row

Nicole Jagonase, Projects Officer

16 May 2021

Political correspondents and NGOs following the sudden mass crossing stipulated a link between Spain’s decision to give Covid-19 treatment to Western Sahara independence leader, Brahim Ghali last month and this event. Whereby Moroccan authorities responded in loosening their border controls in the late hours of Monday 17th May, allowing up to 8,000 migrants to cross into the Spanish territory, before re-establishing control of the border on Thursday the 20th May after severe pressure from Spain and the EU.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez in his Parliamentary address on the 18th promised that most of the migrants who had entered would be ‘immediately returned’ in accordance with a decades long bi-lateral agreement between Morocco and Spain that allows the return of migrants who enter illegally into Spanish territory. On the Wednesday the 19th, Spain claimed to have returned up to 5,600 out of 8,000 individuals across the border including some of the estimated 2,000 unaccompanied minors who are legally protected under Spanish law until their relatives can be found or until they reach adulthood.

The quick turnover raised many questions on the legality of their return to Morocco and consideration for their human rights, as migration processing generally takes a longer period of time with numerous checks. In an article for the Guardian, Judith Sunderland of Human Rights Watch remarked; “it seems very unlikely for Spain to have returned 5,600 people in the space of a matter of hours in a way that allows for any kind of individual assessment or careful examination of individual circumstances. It’s contrary to Spanish law, it’s contrary to European law and it violates international human rights and refugee law.”

Similarly Rafael Escudero, of the Spanish Network for Immigration and Refugee Aid, describes that the unruly pace of these returns implies Spanish disregard of these legal provisions. “The maths don’t work out,” he said. “Even if there were 4,000 police officers on the ground, it would take at least 4,000 minutes to collect data and take a declaration. That’s dozens of hours ... They’re carrying out summary deportations.”

As of today, 7,000 migrants have allegedly been returned with around 438 unaccompanied minors kept in warehouses on a 10-day Covid quarantine, awaiting their fates.

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