The far-right Spanish political party said the coalition government is “a useless institution faced with a problem that needs solving urgently.”
On May 18, Vox party member and Ceuta representative in the Spanish congress Teresa Lopez asked the Sanchez government why nothing has been done about the “Morocco problem.”
She recalled that Vox had called on the government over a month ago to “deal with” the “problem” of Moroccan citizens, both documented and undocumented, stranded in the city of Ceuta in the wake of the COVID-19 border closures.
The municipality is currently hosting 140 Moroccans in the Liberty Sports Center amid the lockdown. Reports of violence and damage to facilities continue to circulate, stirring resentment in the city.
Lopez accused the Sanchez-led coalition government of allowing Morocco to become its puppet master and ignoring the “problem” of irregular migration in Ceuta. She argued that the COVID-19 lockdown and border closures have exacerbated an already “extreme situation.”
Playing the victim, the Vox congressional deputy asked the Sanchez-led coalition why they had allowed Morocco to exploit the COVID-19 crisis to Ceuta and abandon its responsibility for the scores of undocumented migrants in the city.
The Vox representative called the coalition government “a useless institution faced with a problem that needs solving urgently.”
The “urgent” problem, as Lopez and her far-right party see it, is the presence of Moroccan citizens in the enclave in northern Morocco.
Lopez lashed out at Sanchez and the friendly diplomatic relations between Madrid and Rabat, saying “the ‘excellent relations of Morocco’ that this government presumes are based on their repatriation when and as Morocco says.”
The response from the Sanchez-led coalition was measured but clear: Spain will not intervene with the repatriations or force Rabat’s hand.
The government explained that the Liberty Sports Center was set up to house Moroccans who were trapped after the border closures, while Temporary Stay Centers (CETIs) for migrants are still operational.
Irregular migration and minors
Irregular migration into the Spanish enclave in northern Morocco has long been a thorn in the side of Vox and Juan Vivas, the president of Ceuta’s autonomous government and member of the right-wing People’s Party.
Amid tense negotiations between Spain and Morocco to repatriate Moroccan citizens who found themselves trapped in the city after Rabat closed the borders in March to curb the spread of COVID-19, Vivas told Spanish newspaper El Confidencial that Rabat’s efforts are not sufficient.
Repatriating 200 Moroccan citizens is “incomprehensible and without any justification,” Vivas said, adding that Rabat needed to “widen” its efforts to include undocumented migrants.
The Ceuta president threatened Rabat, saying that if the government would not repatriate all of the migrants in the city, he would evict the Moroccans currently housed in the Liberty Sports Center.
Rabat’s repatriation operation, due to continue on Friday, May 22 with 400 more Moroccans leaving the city, considers only people residing permanently in Morocco and who had traveled to Ceuta or Melilla for reasons of health care, tourism, or business at the time of the border closures as eligible for repatriation.
Vivas’ most recent comments follow a similar tirade against Morocco on March 20 when he slammed Rabat for its handling of unaccompanied minors in Ceuta.
“When this [the COVID-19 crisis] is over, Morocco will have to deal with its unaccompanied minors,” argued Vivas on Tuesday, March 24.
“This is happening as the consequence of a structural phenomenon that Ceuta suffers unfairly,” he said. “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.”
The increasing nationalist sentiment in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, echoed by the Vox presence in the Spanish parliament, is a worrying trend for the city.
For years, the positive relations between Morocco and Spain have led Rabat to turn a blind eye to the continued colonial presence in northern Morocco. However, if Vivas and his Vox allies continue to stir nationalism and incite hate, the dynamics between Rabat and the tiny enclave may change.