Of the thousands of migrants who streamed into Spanish territory in North Africa from neighboring Morocco amid an escalating diplomatic dispute between the two countries, more than half have left the exclave Ceuta again.
As of Wednesday, about 4,800 people had been turned back, the Spanish Interior Ministry said, reporting that many had left voluntarily.
Earlier this week, around 8,000 people managed to swim around the border fence to the Spanish exclave of Ceuta – and by definition, the European Union – after Morocco suddenly suspended security controls along the Mediterranean coastline without explanation.
Relations have soured between Morocco and Spain over the migrant issue and Spain’s aid to a leader of the Western Sahara secessionist movement.
Spanish media said the move was deliberate, as the Moroccan government is reportedly annoyed that Madrid allowed the entry of Brahim Ghali, the secretary general of the Polisario Front movement.
The movement seeks the independence of North Africa’s disputed Western Sahara. Morocco took over Western Sahara in 1975 after Spain withdrew from the region. It claims the area as part of its territory. The Polisario Front seeks the territory’s independence.
Ghali has been treated in Spain for the coronavirus since April. He is seen as a war criminal by Morocco, which slammed Spain’s move to aid him as unjustifiable.
Meanwhile, Morocco had decided to recall its ambassador to Spain, Karima Benyaich, “for consultation,” Morocco’s state news agency MAP said late Tuesday, citing a diplomatic source.