Morocco criticises Spain’s use of EU in recent spat

According to Bourita, 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.”
Wednesday 26/05/2021
A file picture of Morocccan foreign minister Naceur Bourita. (AFP)
A file picture of Morocccan foreign minister Naceur Bourita. (AFP)

RABAT--Morocco hinted on Sunday at a possible deterioration of relations with Spain over Madrid’s decision to welcome 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 would-be migrants crossed the border from Morocco into Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta.

Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, Rabat blamed Madrid for the crisis.

“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.

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

Bourita warned that his country might resort to escalation against Spain, saying, “to allow Ghali to go home, to get around Spanish law and ignore the victims would be a call for a deterioration (in relations).”

Morocco believes that there is an attempt to downplay the debate over Madrid’s assistance to the Polisario leader and focus on the issue of migration, following the influx of thousands of Moroccans to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta. Morocco, however, views the crisis as the result of offensive action by Madrid.

The decision to receive Ghali has angered Morocco, prompting its foreign minister to reiterate Rabat’s frustration on Sunday.

According to Bourita, 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.

Speaking about the most recent migration crisis, Bourita said the situation was a “test of the strategic partnership” between Spain and Morocco in the fight against clandestine migration.

“Morocco has no obligation to act. Morocco is neither Europe’s gendarme, nor its janitor,” he said.

“This is a test for the strategic partnership” between the two countries, particularly in terms of the fight against illegal migration, he stressed.

“Good neighbourliness is not a one-way street,” Bourita said, stressing that Morocco “is not obliged to protect the borders” but does so in the framework of this partnership.

The Moroccan foreign minister noted that in 2017 his country “dismantled more than 4,000 networks (of illegal migration) and prevented 14,000 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  cost of the Moroccan operation.

Moroccan observers believe that Rabat has so far dealt calmly with the crisis, with Rachid Lazrag, a professor of political science, noting that “the behaviour of the Moroccan foreign ministry was characterised by diligence and composure in the face of the Spanish government’s violation of all legal and diplomatic norms as well as the principles of good neighbourliness.”

Lazrag explained to The Arab Weekly that “Morocco has decided to deal firmly, honestly and confidently, using all means at hand, with the attempts to target its dignity and territorial integrity by Spain.”

He stressed that “In addition to migration, Morocco controls several files, including the security and intelligence ones. If bilateral cooperation ends, this factor could have major repercussions on the European Union in general, not just Spain. This is why the European Union is expected to pressure Spain into easing tensions and improving relations.”

Morocco wants a fair trial of Ghali in return for not severing ties with Spain. During the past few hours, there has been talk of a flurry of European activity and French mediation in order to resolve the current crisis between Spain and Morocco.

On Sunday evening, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had criticised the European Union’s handling of the migration crisis, saying that “relations between Morocco and Spain have become very complicated now and I hope that the situation will improve soon.”

The French minister also said that he held talks with Bourita to “try to contribute to this dialogue.”

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

For her part, French Ambassador to Morocco Helene Le Gal said, “Morocco is a reliable country, which takes the fight against illegal migration very seriously and which provides solutions that are costly.”

Securing a maritime border like that of Morocco, in addition to land borders, is something huge on the scale of the country, said the French diplomat.

Le Gal thus called on the entire European Union to mobilise alongside Morocco in its efforts to fight illegal migration, a phenomenon that “concerns us all,” she said.

On the effectiveness of French mediation, Lazraq told The Arab Weekly that “the success of France’s mediation depends on the way the Spanish government will respond to Morocco’s demands. Rabat is strict in defending its strategic interests and will not back down, so the ball is now in the court of the Spanish government.”

The Moroccan professor of political science added that Paris “can pressure Spain from within the European Union.”

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