The move is in response to Morocco’s decision to close borders with the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla to clamp down smuggling, a practice that directly impacts on the economy of the North African country.
Rabat – The autonomous government of the Spanish enclave Ceuta has announced plans to implement visa restrictions on Moroccan citizens living in Tetouan wanting to enter the Spanish enclave.
In accordance with the Agreement on the Accession of Spain, residents in Tetouan province can currently access the enclaves of Ceuta without a visa.
The visa exemption allowed hundreds of women and men from the region to cross back and forth from the enclaves for informal trading. Many of the inhabitants in the region, who are sometimes referred to as “human mules,” earn their living by carrying merchandise between the enclaves and Morocco to sell.
The trade activities are currently suspended after Morocco decided to close borders for merchants as to clamp down on the smuggling and counterfeiting of products, to curb the negative impacts on Morocco’s economy.
The Moroccan decision angered officials in Ceuta and Melilla. The presidents of the two enclaves accused Morocco of trying to “suffocate” their economies.
Europa Press reported on February 18 that Ceuta now plans to respond to Morocco’s decision in kind by imposing more access restrictions for Moroccans who want to enter the enclaves.
The president of Ceuta, Juan Vivas, wants to put measures that would counteract to “the pressure that Morocco is putting on the city,” Europa Press reported.
Vivas’ plans include bringing the Tarajal border inline with EU regulations, meaning a u-turn on the Agreement of the Accession of Spain that allowed Tetouan residents to enter the city without a Schengen visa, the news outlet added.
The proposal wants to give opportunities for citizens residing in Ceuta to curb unemployment in the region.
Despite previous hostile comments about Morocco, Vivas denied that the measures are a counter-attack or a hostile move, saying “we are not going against anybody, the measures are for Ceuta and for the future of all.”
Prior to the decision, the spokesperson for the government of Ceuta, Alberto Gaitan, also announced that the two Spanish enclaves need to come up with an economic program to overcome the challenges caused by Morocco’s decision.
“Spain and Ceuta must not go on their knees to Morocco and need to find an alternative exit route from this situation,” he said.
The decision to update the Schengen treaty against citizens in Tetouan will need Spanish approval. Despite Morocco’s decision to close borders with Spanish enclaves, Rabat and Madrid continue to describe their relations as exemplary, especially in the field of migration.
A move from Spain to approve the Ceuta proposal could have adverse effects on the “exemplary”Rabat-Madrid relations, especially while the two countries remain in negotiations over Rabat’s decision to adopt laws to redefine its maritime borders in the waters between Morocco’s Western Sahara and Spain’s Canary Islands.
Spanish FM Arancha Gonzalez Laya said that Morocco has the right to delimit its maritime borders, but the country will not do it “unilaterally.”
While Morocco’s government has been clear that it needs no approval to delimit the maritime borders, the country also reiterated its readiness for dialogue to avoid any overlaps that would affect its relationship with Spain.