Vivas’s hostile rhetoric is not unprecedented, and comes after a series of jibes aimed at Morocco after the North African country clamped down on illegal smuggling on the Ceuta border.
Essaouira – Juan Vivas, the president of Spanish enclave Ceuta, has slammed Morocco over the number of undocumented unaccompanied minors in the city amid the coronavirus, or COVID-19, crisis.
“When this [the COVID-19 crisis] is over, Morocco will have to deal with its unaccompanied minors,” argued Vivas.
“This is happening is the consequence of a structural phenomenon that Ceuta suffers unfairly,”
Vivas said on Tuesday, March 24. “Since it is not normal for Ceuta and Melilla, which represent 0.04% of the total population of Spain, to support 15% of all the unaccompanied minors there are in Spain.”
Vivas, a member of the far-right Vox party, has long blamed Morocco for the flow of undocumented migrants entering the autonomous city in the hopes of continuing to mainland Europe. The latest outcry from the president comes as countries across the globe close their borders to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Morocco announced a lock-down on March 19, when the government declared a state of emergency. A week prior to the official lockdown, the North African country closed its borders and suspended all international air,, and maritime travel routes.
The kingdom officially closed the land borders with Spanish enclaves Ceuta and Melilla on March 13 at 6 a.m. after the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Spain reached nearly 4,000. The autonomous city of Melilla reported its first two cases on March 12.
The borders did reopen, however, to allow for the repatriation of Spanish and European citizens stranded in Morocco in the wake of the travel ban.
Vivas called out Morocco for double standards yesterday, March 24. The president aruged that the government should have arranged for the repatriation of Moroccan citizens, undocumented or not, on the wrong side of the Ceuta border after the lock-down.
Ceuta’s president said he would let the issue go for now, in the light of the global crisis, but made it clear he would revisit the question of unaccompanied Moroccan minors in the city once the pandemic abates.
He asked for it to be on record that “there will be time to talk about all this, but we are going to continue insisting as uncomfortable as it may be.”
Tensions on the border
On March 23, Vivas announced at a press conference that these are “hard and difficult” times for Ceuta. He warned of a severe economic downturn as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, warning the city could see a 10% fall in GDP.
In the same speech, the far-right politician slammed Morocco for severely damaging the city’s economy by imposing border restrictions.
Rabat’s decision to restrict border crossings aimed to clamp down on informal trade. The decision came after Morocco recorded a hemorrhage of tax and customs duties from informal smuggling, causing the country to lose millions of euros every year.
In February 2019, the director-general of the Moroccan Administration of Customs and Indirect Taxation, Nabyl Lakhdar, estimated the value of the products entering Morocco through the Ceuta border between MAD 6 billion and MAD 8 billion per year (between €550 million and €730 million).
Lakhdar emphasized that Morocco was forced to turn to “radical” solutions to “permanently” put an end to contraband border crossings with Melilla and Ceuta.
Vivas responded to the move, accusing Morocco of attempting to “strangle” the city’s economy. He went on to emphasize the “Spanishness” of the two enclaves. The people of Ceuta and Melilla, “have been living in Spain for years, whatever it takes and whatever the price,” he said.
In January, Vivas cited the high number of unaccompanied Moroccan minors who enter the cities without documentation as a serious issue in the enclave. He said the issue is “forcing” the enclaves to act.