In wake of migration crisis, Spanish court summons Polisario leader

Analysts say that in the absence of mutual security coordination between the two sides, Morocco refuses to be a border guard for Spain and Europe.

Wednesday 19/05/2021
Brahim Ghali, secretary general of Polisario Front attends a meeting at the Sahrawi refugee camp of Dakhla, southeast of the Algerian city of Tindouf, July 9, 2016. (REUTERS)
Brahim Ghali, secretary general of Polisario Front attends a meeting at the Sahrawi refugee camp of Dakhla, southeast of the Algerian city of Tindouf, July 9, 2016. (REUTERS)

MADRID – Spain’s high court on Wednesday summoned Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali to appear on June 1 for charges to be issued in a war crimes case against him, a court document said.

The summons is the first step toward a potential trial.

Ghali, who is currently in hospital in northern Spain, declined to sign the summons, saying he had to refer to the Algerian embassy first, the document said.

Ghali and other leaders of the Algeria-backed separatist group, are accused by human rights organisations and Western Sahara individuals of genocide, murder, terrorism, torture and disappearances, the document said.

The decision of the Spanish high court came a few days after a record influx of migrant arrivals sent diplomatic tensions soaring between Madrid and Rabat.

Thorny issue of migration

The influx has revived the thorny issue of migration into the EU, with the Vice-President of the European Commission, Margaritis Schinas, saying Wednesday the continent “won’t be intimidated by anyone.”

Speaking on Spanish radio, he said there have been “a few attempts by third countries … over the past 15 months” to leverage the migrant issue.

In a veiled reference to Rabat, Schinas said on Spanish radio that Europe would “not be a victim of these tactics”.

“Ceuta is Europe, this border is a European border and what happens there is not a problem for Madrid, but a problem for all” Europeans, he said.

Maghreb countries, particularly Morocco and Tunisia, have always had a migration argument with European interlocutors even without political tensions lurking in the background.

Control of illegal migration flows is often hampered by the limited means of North African countries and by uneven cooperation levels with European nations.

Moroccan reinforcements

On the ground, people continued to gather on the Moroccan border with Spain Wednesday.

It was not clear how many managed to cross, but those who made it to shore were immediately picked up by soldiers and escorted to where medics were offering help, although few appeared to need it.

On Tuesday morning, Rabat deployed reinforcements at the Fnideq border crossing.

Overnight Wednesday, police on the Moroccan side of the border blocked dozens of youths from crossing over, who responded by throwing rocks.

In an interview late Monday, Spain’s top diplomat dismissed suggestions Madrid’s extension of medical treatment to Ghali was linked to the unprecedented surge in migrants reaching its Ceuta enclave.

Moroccan officials had “assured” Madrid that the huge influx was “not the result of the disagreement” with Rabat over the presence of Ghali at a Spanish hospital, she said.

Some analysts speculated Morocco could have turned a blind eye to the human tide surging into Ceuta to put diplomatic pressure on Spain to recognise its sovereignty over Western Sahara.

Absence of coordination

Moroccan journalist Mohamed Mamouni Alaoui argues that the absence of Spanish-Moroccan coordination at various levels, especially that of  security, has exacerbated tensions.

The migrant’s influx, he told The Arab Weekly, echoed the gravity of a lack of coordination, showing that the security and immigration issues are very critical and that Madrid cannot choose what it wants and exclude what it does not want.

Morocco has halted security, cultural and judicial cooperation with the Spanish side after a series of positions that disturbed the bilateral relations.

Spain had rejected Washington’s decision to recognise Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara and attempted to persuade the Americans to abandon their support for Rabat.

A visit by the Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, to Rabat last December was postponed at the request of Morocco and an African tour that Sanchez undertook earlier this month, without visiting Morocco, reflected the depth of the crisis between the two sides.

Moroccan expert in diplomatic affairs Samir Bennis believes that relations between Morocco and Spain will enter a new phase and will be put to test, which will trigger an unprecedented state of alert in Madrid and push it to review its positions and think carefully about the nature of the relations it seeks to build with Morocco.

Morocco’s director of the Judicial Police Mohamed Dkhissi said that Spain and Germany will be affected by Morocco’s suspension of security cooperation because the experience of the Moroccan security services in law enforcement and collecting intelligence is internationally-recognised thanks to the professionalism, honesty and aptitude of these services.

Tension has been running high between Morocco and Germany as well, due to differences on some issues, notably the Western Sahara and Libya. These differences have recently prompted Morocco to stop dealing with the German embassy in Rabat.

Observers rule out that Morocco has put its citizens at risk of political retribution over Spain’s decision to receive Ghali.

They rather blame the failure of the Spanish security forces to protect their side of the borders with Morocco from the migrants’ influx, noting that in the absence of mutual security coordination between the two sides, Morocco refuses to be a border guard for Spain and Europe.

Pressure on Madrid?

Analysts had earlier warned that with Spanish government’s attitude in the Ghali episode, Rabat may not feel motivated to continue devoting scare resources to the budget-consuming fight over illegal migration as it has in the past.

Morocco’s Human Rights Minister, Mustapha Ramid, said Wednesday that it was “clear” that Spain had favoured its ties with the Polisario and Algeria over those with Morocco by hosting Ghali.

“Spain must also know that the price for discrediting Morocco is steep,” he added in a Facebook post.

The Moroccan authorities have long wanted Spain to acknowledge their sovereignty over Western Sahara, as Washington did in December under former president Donald Trump and were using the Ghali spat to put pressure on Madrid.

Spain has long maintained that a solution to the issue can only come from an agreement brokered by the United Nations.