Spain’s defense minister accuses Morocco of ‘blackmail’ over migrant surge

Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles accused Morocco of “blackmail” on Thursday over its inaction in the face of a surge in migrant arrivals in Spain’s African enclave of Ceuta.

“We will not accept blackmail. The territorial integrity of Spain is non-negotiable and we will use all means necessary to protect our borders,” she said in an interview with Spain’s national radio station.

In some of the harshest words from a Spanish authority since this week’s record influx of migrants, she said Morocco was “using” children and “breaking international law” for political purposes.

“This was an aggression against the borders of Spain and the European Union … With Spain, you cannot play these kinds of games,” she continued.

From early Monday until late Tuesday, Moroccan security forces appeared to have stopped controlling their border with Spain’s African enclave of Ceuta.

The move caused a mass exodus of migrants. Of the 8,000 who arrived in the tiny territory of Ceuta, Spain rapidly deported around 5,600 of them, according to the Interior Ministry.

The tension between Spain and Morocco began in late April, when the former welcomed Brahim Ghali, leader of the outlawed Western Sahara separatist movement, into the country to treat his serious case of COVID-19.

Spanish authorities failed inform the Moroccan government about the move.

Spain claims it was for humanitarian purposes, but Moroccan officials called it an “unacceptable provocation” and threatened that there would be consequences.

After high-level diplomatic meetings on Tuesday, the tension subsided slightly. Moroccan authorities took back control of the border region, while the Spanish High Court has summoned Ghali on June 1 for a preliminary hearing in a war crimes case against him.

Meanwhile, Spanish Education Minister Isabel Celaa said on Thursday that it “is not smart” to blame Morocco for what happened.

“Morocco is our neighbor, a partner with whom we work closely on terrorism, drug trafficking and migration. Ceuta and Melilla border it directly, so we need to be careful. We need to take care of this relationship,” Celaa told radio station Onda Cero in response to Roble’s comments.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez had expressed his firm commitment to protecting Spain’s borders but has not directly criticized Morocco.

Source: Anadolu Agency