Conflict Alerts # 525, 29 June 2022
In the news
On 25 June, Morocco’s state news channel said at least 23 people had died while attempting to enter Spain’s enclave Melilla, from Morocco. Further, 170 security personnel and 76 migrants were wounded. The Guardian referred to a statement by the Spanish government’s local delegation which said around 2,000 people had approached Melilla; nearly 500 entered the a border control area and 133 reached Melilla. On the same day, Spain’s prime minister Pedro Sanchez called the migration an attack on Spain’s “territorial integrity” and blamed human traffickers for the incident.
On 26 June, The Guardian referred to a Spanish newspaper quoting a person who attempted crossing into Melilla. The person said the people and the police threw stones at each other and also accused the Moroccan forces of being “very violent, more aggressive than other times,” leading to panic and a stampede.
On 27 June, the African Union Commission chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat expressed shock and called for an investigation. Mahamat tweeted: “I express my deep shock and concern at the violent and degrading treatment of African migrants attempting to cross an international border from #Morocco into #Spain, with the ensuing violence leading to the deaths of at least 23 people and injuries to many more.”
Issues at large
First, migration from Morocco. Moroccans have migrated to European countries in search of better jobs and opportunities. However, Morocco also acts as a destination and transit point to Europe for several people migrants from North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. Most people migrate from Africa to escape conflict, violence, impacts of climate change, lack of opportunities, economic difficulties or poverty. Due to its geographical proximity, Morocco acts as a gateway to Europe, given that two autonomous cities under Spain - Ceuta and Melilla are in North Africa.
Second, North Africa as a transit point and Europe’s receiving countries. Apart from Morocco, Libya and Tunisia also act as transit points where people take the Mediterranean route to reach Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Malta and Spain. However, the above four are entry points to Europe and not necessarily destinations for the migrants; destinations include France, Germany and the like.
Third, Spain-Morocco relations. The incident took place after the two countries resolved diplomatic tensions prevailing since 2021. In March 2022, Spain extended support to Morocco’s claims to the Western Sahara. BBC explains that Spain expected that supporting Morocco would ensure cooperation from the latter on the migration issue. Previously, In 2021, Morocco broke ties with Spain after the latter offered treatment to a pro-independence leader of Western Sahara in a Spanish hospital. Further, when around 10,000 migrants crossed into another autonomous Spanish enclave, Ceuta, in May 2021, Morocco turned a blind eye, further deteriorating the ties.
Fourth, the humanitarian cost. The routes taken by migrants to enter Europe are dangerous and often lead to loss of lives. In 2015, when the migration crisis gained global attention, Amnesty International’s data said since 2000, around 22,000 people had died trying to reach Europe. The International Organization of Migration recorded 1,903 deaths in the Mediterranean and the Western Africa/Atlantic region, so far in 2022. The figures recorded over the years are 3157 (2021); 2326 (2020); 2087 (2019); 2380 (2018); 3140 (2017) and 5305 (2016).
First, the number of deaths over the years has not reduced except after 2016 which witnessed over 5000 deaths. Since 2017, the deaths have reduced or increased by a few hundreds without displaying any improvement. This indicates the continuation of the migration issue without any solution.
Second, impact on Spain and Morocco relations. The incident may urge Spain and Morocco to fasten talks to address the crisis, especially after the former supported Morocco’s territorial claim over the Western Sahara. However, another possibility could be the dampening of the spirits with which both countries restarted diplomatic ties.