Morocco calls on Spain to avoid further escalation

Morocco’s warning that relations with Spain could deteriorate further came after Madrid welcomed Brahim Ghali, head of the Algeria-Backed Polisario Front, a separatist movement, into the country for medical treatment.
Monday 24/05/2021
A file picture shows Morocco’s Foreign Affairs Minister Nasser Bourita at a joint press conference with his Spanish counterpart Arancha Gonzalez Laya (L) in the capital Rabat, on January 24, 2020. (AFP)
A file picture shows Morocco’s Foreign Affairs Minister Nasser Bourita at a joint press conference with his Spanish counterpart Arancha Gonzalez Laya (L) in the capital Rabat, on January 24, 2020. (AFP)

RABAT--Morocco urged Spain on Sunday to avoid escalating a worsening crisis that has been unfolding between the two countries over the past few days.

Morocco’s warning that relations with Spain could deteriorate further came after Madrid welcomed Brahim Ghali, head of the Algeria-Backed Polisario Front, a separatist movement, into the country for medical treatment.

Tensions between the two countries further deepened this week after some 10,000 crossed the border from Morocco into Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta.

To allow Ghali “to go home, to get around Spanish law and ignore the victims would be a call for a deterioration (in relations),” Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said.

According to the Moroccan minister, avoiding “deterioration” requires a “transparent” investigation into the conditions of Ghali’s entry into Spain and the “taking into account the complaints lodged against him” on charges of “torture, human rights violations and enforced disappearance.”

Judicial sources earlier said that a Spanish court has reopened a probe into allegations of torture against Ghali.

The accusations were filed by the Spain-based Sahrawi Association for the Defence of Human Rights, the sources said.

The group alleges that dissident members of the separatist movement were held in camps in Algeria where they underwent torture and in some cases were killed.

Analysts have earlier suggested that Rabat had allowed the migrant crossings to pressure Madrid to recognise Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.

Bourita said the situation was a “test of the strategic partnership” between Spain and Morocco in the fight against clandestine migration.

Bourita revealed that Spain did not consult the European Union before making a decision to host Ghali under a false identity 

“Madrid has created a crisis and wants Europe to assume it,” he said.

“For me, it is, above all, a migration crisis born of a political crisis between two partners. A crisis for which Spain is responsible,” the Moroccan top diplomat explained. 

He debunked claims of Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya that contact between the two countries remain fluid, revealing that since the onset of the crisis, there has been no contact between the two officials.

Addressing Spain’s media attempt to set a narrative that blames Morocco for failing to control its borders, he said “Morocco has no obligation to act. Morocco is neither Europe’s gendarme, nor its janitor.”

The Moroccan foreign minister noted that in 2017 his country “dismantled more than 4,000 networks [of illegal migration] and prevented 14 thousand illegal attempts” to cross the border. He added the European financial contribution to this effort was “an average of 300 million euros annually,” which is a sum that amounted to less than 20 percent of the expenses.

On Sunday evening, France hinted at the possibility of mediation between Morocco and Spain to ease the recently escalating tensions between the two countries.

During an interview with “Le Grand Jury” show, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that he held talks with Bourita to “try to contribute to this dialogue.”

The French minister added that “relations between Morocco and Spain have become very complicated now and I hope that the situation will improve soon.”

“Some developments have led to tension in relations between the two countries, though these relations were positive to some extent regarding the migration file,” Le Drian said.

“The situation is evident. Europe needs to execute its immigration policies, and respect the principle of responsibility and solidarity to combat illegal immigration,” he added.

Rabat had recalled its ambassador to Madrid Karima Benyaich on Tuesday for consultations after the Spanish Foreign Ministry summoned her to protest the influx of about 6,000 irregular migrants from Morocco on Monday to Ceuta, before the number later increased to 8,000, according to Madrid.

The city of Ceuta is located in the far north of Morocco and it is under Spanish administration. Rabat considers Ceuta an “occupied territory” by Spain, which surrounded the city with a 6km-long fence of barbed wire.

Ghali, who leads the Polisario Front, has been receiving treatment for COVID-19 at a hospital in Logrono in northern Spain since mid-April.

The Polisario Front has long fought for Western Sahara’s control. A desert region the size of Britain, it was a Spanish colony until 1975.

Morocco has offered Western Sahara autonomy, but maintains the territory is a sovereign part of the kingdom.