People mainly from Morocco are seen on the shore as the Spanish Army cordons off the area at the border of Morocco and Spain, at the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, Tuesday, May 18.
Spain’s Prime Minister flew to the country’s North African enclave Tuesday to contain a migration crisis with neighboring Morocco after 6,000 migrants swam or walked over the border.
Spain deployed troops and extra police to repel crowds who were trying to get round security fences from Morocco into the tiny Spanish territory after a huge incursion of migrants the day before.
Videos emerged that appeared to show Moroccan soldiers opening security gates to let migrants through to the Spanish port city.
“This sudden arrival of irregular migrants is a serious crisis for Spain and Europe,” said Pedro Sanchez in a televised address to the nation before travelling to Ceuta and Melilla, another Spanish enclave bordering Morocco.
European Union leaders backed Spain, saying the mass incursion in Ceuta was a breach of the bloc’s borders.
European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas called for a “strong protection of our borders”.
Experts suggested this huge influx, which included entire families, was an attempt by Morocco to pressure Spain to alter its policy toward Western Sahara, the disputed territory to which Rabat lays claim.
Morocco and Spain have been mired in a diplomatic dispute over the presence in Spain of a Polisario Front leader, whose movement has fought for the independence of Western Sahara.
The leader, Brahim Ghali, is receiving treatment at a hospital in Logroño in northern Spain, after he was diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The Polisario Front fought a long war against Morocco to win the independence of the disputed Western Saharan territory, which was a Spanish colony until 1975.
Rabat claims the territory as part of Morocco partly as it contains important deposits of phosphates but the Polisario Front has demanded an independence referendum.