MORE than 8,000 people, including around 1,500 minors, risked their lives swimming or wading around the border fence to enter the Spanish enclave of Ceuta from Morocco this week. 

One man drowned in the process and now thousands have been sent back to Morocco, Spanish authoritise have confirmed. 

The migrants swam a short distance through rocky breakwaters from two locations, with some entering southern Ceuta at Tarajal beach, and a larger group entering the north of the city at Benzu beach in a bid to flee Morocco and enter the European Union. 

Spain has seen an increase in migrants arriving on its shores in recent months.

Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, said: “more than 1,000 irregular migrants reached the Canary Islands in April, three times the total from the same month of last year.

“In the January-April period, nearly 4,500 irregular migrants arrived on the Canary Islands, more than double the total from the same period of 2020. Nationals from sub-Saharan countries, most claiming to be from Mali and Morocco, accounted for the largest number of arrivals.”

Where is Ceuta? 

Ceuta is an enclave of some 84,000 Spaniards on Morocco’s north coast and, crucially for migrants attempting to enter, it is on European Union soil.

The land border of several miles between Ceuta and Morocco has a tall fence. It is a flashpoint for the migration of sub-Saharan Africans trying to enter Spain, and the European Union, in groups.

Why are families and children coming so suddenly now? 

Migration flows to Spain from Morocco have trebled from this time last year – with some suggesting the surge has followed on from Spain allowing the head of the Polisario Front – a group seeking independence from Morocco in the disputed Western Sahara – to enter the country for medical treatment in April.

The decision to take in the Polisario Front leader, Brahim Ghali, was ‘reckless, irresponsible and totally unacceptable’, Mustapha Ramid, Morocco’s minister in charge of human rights, said in a recent Facebook post. He said “What was Spain expecting from Morocco when it hosted an official from a group that is carrying arms against the kingdom?”

Others say the blame goes back further, pointing fingers at the Trump administration’s decision to recognise the Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara in December last year.

What is being done to help them? 

The Red Cross has been assisting migrants with dry clothes, blankets and food at Tarajal beach. The charity’s spokeswoman, Isabel Brasero, told Spanish TVE that the migrants included babies appear to be in good health.

One photo of volunteer with the Spanish Red Cross comforting a migrant in Ceuta has gone viral in recent days. The young woman, identified as Luna, told Spanish TV she did not know the man’s name, only that he had come from Senegal.

“He was crying, I held out my hand and he hugged me,” she told RTVE.

Where are the migrants now? 

On the outskirts of Ceuta, a warehouse is being use to house many of the young people who arrived. However, Spain’s interior ministry said on Wednesday that 5,600 of the 8,000 people who had crossed into Spain earlier in the week had been returned to Morocco. They cited a decades-old bilateral agreement that allows the return of adults who cross the border irregularly.

What has the Spanish Government said? 

On Tuesday Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez he would travel to both of his country’s enclaves on Morocco’s north coast: Ceuta and the city of Melilla, which lies further east.

Sanchez promised to ‘reinstate the order,’ and said Spain will return ‘immediately’ all those who entered irregularly, as allowed, he added, by existing agreements between Spain and Morocco.

Ylva Johansson, European Union Commissioner for Home Affairs, has said that it was ‘worrying’ that so many people were endangering their lives by swimming to Ceuta.

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