On February 22, France 24 reported that Morocco uses the migrant crisis as leverage in a trade dispute with the EU. More than 850 migrants are said to have breached the border with Spanish held Ceuta from Morocco. Located just South of Gibraltar, Ceuta was conquered by the Portuguese in the 15th century, before deciding to remain in the Spanish Empire in the 17th century. It is one of two Spanish cities on the Mediterranean Coast, the other one being Melilla. Consequently, it is one of two land borders between Europe and Africa, making the city a focal point for migrants seeking to gain entrance.
Around 500 migrants stormed the guarded and fenced 8-kilometre border on Friday, in the largest successful incursion in more than a decade, followed on Monday by another successful attempt by 356 migrants. On New Year’s Day, more than 1.000 migrants tried to jump the double fence separating Morocco and Ceuta, but were repelled, with 5 Spanish, and 50 Moroccan border guards injured, including the loss of an eye. Ceuta officials are now faced with more than 1.400 migrants to be questioned. Housing has become a problem, and more tents have been requested.
This latest attempt might have been successful due to Moroccan sabotage, after threats made by the Moroccan agricultural ministry after a ruling on a free trade agreement with the EU did not go Morocco’s way. The Court of Justice of the European Union found that:
“the Liberalisation Agreement must, however, be interpreted, in accordance with the relevant rules of international law applicable to relations between the European Union and the Kingdom of Morocco, as meaning that it does not apply to the territory of Western Sahara.”
This in effect means that the bilateral free trade agreement on agricultural and fishery products agreed upon by the EU and Morocco is not valid for the Western Sahara. This prompted the Moroccan agricultural ministry to state that:
“any obstacle in the application of this agreement is a direct attack on thousands of jobs on both sides, and risks the resumption of migratory flows, which Morocco has succeeded in containing through a deliberate, sustained effort.”
And it seems that Morocco is now making good on that extortionist threat.
“Morocco’s entire foreign policy is influenced by what’s happening in Western Sahara. If the EU does not support Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara and turn a blind eye to products coming from this region, then [Morocco] will open and close its borders as it sees fit.”