The Minister of the Interior, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, met this Wednesday for three hours with his Moroccan counterpart, Abdelouafi Laftit, to stage, in the midst of the crisis with Algeria, the new state of relations between Madrid and Rabat after the Spanish decision to abandon its traditional position of neutrality in the Sahara conflict and support Morocco’s proposal for autonomy for the former colony. This is the second meeting between the two ministers since the Spanish turn on the Saharawi issue took shape last March. The previous one took place on March 29, in Dubai (United Arab Emirates), during a meeting of the International Alliance for Security in which Grande-Marlaska and Laftit participated. Before the diplomatic crisis, both ministers had held eight bilateral meetings.
After Wednesday’s meeting, held at the ministry’s headquarters in Madrid, both ministers issued a joint statement in which they underline “the strategic importance of relations between the two countries” and place “the exemplary nature of cooperation” between their departments as the materialization of “the new dynamic” between Madrid and Rabat after the end of the diplomatic crisis.
The statement also highlighted “the exemplary Spanish-Moroccan cooperation in the areas of migration and security, especially in the fight against terrorism and transnational crime.” Shortly before, in a press release, Interior stressed this idea by praising “the daily joint work” of the Security Forces of both countries and highlighting “the exchange of operational information” in “the fight against irregular immigration and in the dismantling of criminal organizations dedicated to migrant smuggling”, one of the most sensitive issues in the relationship between the two countries.
In fact, the last diplomatic crisis between the two countries, which lasted for 10 months, was caused by the irregular entry of more than 10,000 immigrants in Ceuta, on May 17 and 18, 2021, due to the passivity of the Moroccan authorities. . Reports from the National Intelligence Center (CNI) of those days framed that massive influx of immigrants within the “aggressive discourse” with which Rabat intended Madrid to change its position on the question of Western Sahara, as finally happened last March.
Both ministers also addressed the process of normalizing the land border between the two countries, which began on May 17 with the partial reopening of the Beni Enzar crossing, in Melilla, and El Tarajal, in Ceuta, but which it is still far from complete. That day, after more than two years closed to the ground, the border posts were only reopened for citizens of the European Union and foreigners with a residence permit and Schengen visa. Two weeks later, on May 31, it was reopened to the transit of cross-border workers residing in the neighboring towns of Morocco, although only the few who had valid documentation could do so, less than 300 between both cities. The joint statement, however, does not refer to this point.
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Since then, the situation has remained stagnant despite the fact that delegations from both countries have held several meetings to agree on new steps in the reopening. The Spanish Government considered that the agreement with Rabat would include the reopening of the commercial customs with Melilla and the installation of a new one in Ceuta, but this has not yet materialized. Despite this, the joint statement stressed that “the roadmap agreed after the meeting between the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, and the King of Morocco, Mohamed VI” is being followed last April, without giving further details.
The meeting has also served to discuss Operation Crossing the Strait, which this Wednesday has formally started in Spain after two years suspended after the decision of the Moroccan authorities to close the borders to hinder the spread of the coronavirus and, subsequently, maintain the measure as one more method of pressure for Spain to modify its position regarding Western Sahara. Last year, Rabat only allowed ships from Sète (France) and Genoa (Italy) to dock in its ports.
Operation Crossing the Strait, known in Morocco as Marhaba, was conceived in 1986 and usually takes place between June 15 and September 15. In its last edition, that of 2019, it facilitated the passage from Europe to Morocco of 3,340,045 passengers and 760,215 vehicles. For the current one, whose details were finalized on May 5, delegations from both countries at a meeting held in Rabat, about 16,000 agents of the Security Forces participate on the Spanish side. The movement of people moves close to 500 million euros in ship tickets alone, according to estimates by shipping companies from previous years. Added to this are the sales of grocery stores, gas stations, hotels and jobs for the unemployed who participate during those three months as assistants.
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