Ceuta, a Spanish autonomous city on the northern shore of Africa, woke up to an unprecedented infiltration when thousands of Moroccan migrants made their ways into the city through the ocean. To-and-fro movement from neighbouring countries is a regular phenomenon, however, what unfolded on May 17 sent shock waves throughout the European Union.
Ceuta saw around 8000 illegal migrants, including 86 sub-Saharan people who swam across the border. Some people paddled to reach the Spanish enclave. Although men formed the majority in the flock, the episode saw the involvement of women and children crowding at Tarajal, Ceuta’s southern entry point. Just as the migrants started arriving at the coast, Spain deployed troops and armoured vehicles to the border to greet visitantes. An AFP report detailed that around 4000 migrants were rounded up on the shore and sent back to Morocco through the fenced gate. Out of about 1500 minors, those unaccompanied were held back in the care of the Red Cross Society.
In the wake of the sudden surge, blame is being pointed towards the Moroccan authorities, who failed to prevent people from crossing the border. However, the border security has always remained at stake due to the overarching territorial dispute between Spain and Morocco. This particular event differs from all other migration episodes Spain has observed, not only in terms of its scale but motivations. One such plausible motivation behind the upsurge, as reported by AFP, is retaliation against Spain for providing head of the Polisario Front – Brahim Ghali – with medical attention against coronavirus.
The other reason for this influx is to seek better livelihood opportunities. Many of them, before the pandemic, could cross the borders regularly and had access to passes that identified them as citizens of neighbouring areas. They were engaged as highly skilled labourers, including women who would smuggle goods across the border that helped them sustain themselves.
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While one can point out major demographic, political and religious differences, it is believed that the unequal nature of the European job market has provoked the unprecedented single-day spike. This dramatic difference usually attracts young males, who aspire to join the domestic workforce primarily in Madrid and Barcelona. However, in the last two days, Ceuta has seen the involvement of families, reflecting the desperation of the third world countries’ citizens in such uncertain times.