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Ceuta seeks normalcy a year after border crisis with Morocco

Latest NewsCeuta seeks normalcy a year after border crisis with Morocco

The sun is setting in the Ceuta area of ​​Benzou and the sun is struggling to win over the clouds stuck in Dead Woman, a mountain above the town of Belunes, on the Moroccan side of the border. The backlight casts shadows on a picture of idle neighbors spending the day in front of the sea, members of the Moroccan auxiliaries guarding a border crossing officially closed since 2019, and crowded houses overlooking the perimeter fence. A few hours earlier, in this chiaroscuro, several police units carried out an operation against a human trafficking network that had been active since the summer of 2021. This is the second major raid in Bensu, El Principe and other areas of Ceuta such as Los Rosales and Hadu so far this year.

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The operations are the final touch in a return to normalcy in a city that held its breath a year ago. Between 17 and 18 May 2021, between 10,000 and 14,500 people arrived in Ceuta, depending on who the data is checked against, at a rate of 90 people per minute during the busiest hours of the crisis. “It was as if half a million people entered Madrid in one day,” recalls Juan Jesús Vivas, president of the local executive. A year later, Ceuta looks almost always, expecting the closed border to open in March 2020 and go into effect on Tuesday, coinciding with the anniversary of “the heaviest and most difficult episode Ceuta has experienced in its history in recent times.” , according to the president of the autonomous city, from paragraphs.

Bus line L7 between Constitución and the border between Spain and Morocco in Ceuta.PACO BRIDGES

The security forces claim that the disbanded network profited from people who arrived in May and were stuck in Ceuta due to the inability to agree with Morocco on an effective return mechanism to operate after the first days after the crisis, when about 7,500 people were illegally or voluntarily returned to Morocco. As a result of the mass entry, more than a thousand children under the care of the municipal administration were left without a place and resources to care for them.

“The visibility of people on the streets has returned to normal in Ceuta,” says Mabel Dewe, the local vice president in charge of juveniles. Since the summer of 2021, the departures have been constant, according to police sources. As well as the disappearances and deaths of even minors. Those who did not leave on their own or paid up to 4,000 euros to land on the peninsula decided to apply for asylum. According to the government delegation, up to 1,600 applications were processed in Ceuta between July and October; According to the Spanish Commission for Assistance to Refugees (CEAR), 285 documents were processed in 2020 (579 in 2019, before the pandemic).

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“Many people have left on shabby boats that even the authorities don’t know about,” says Sabah Ahmed, a businesswoman from Ceuta. “We know more by word of mouth when families called us because a boat with 20 or 30 people left Ceuta and they didn’t reach their destination; but as children, I don’t even tell you.” Ahmed, 61, tearfully recalls the incessant phone calls from relatives trying to find young people who have left for the peninsula. About 30 children are still sleeping outside, according to No Name Kitchen volunteers, because they don’t want to enter the devices operated by the SAMU foundation, which house 166 of the 340 minors guarded by the Administration after breaking into the premises. 2021. With the approval of Madrid, the city government launched a new process under the Framework Agreement with Morocco for the expeditious return of minors. The procedure had no legal guarantees, and the courts stopped the return after at least 55 teenagers were sent to Morocco.

Band of the Legion performing in downtown Ceuta this Wednesday.PACO PUENTES (COUNTRY)

“We cannot consider that the issue has been resolved or the work has been completed,” says President Vivas, “I think that what happened is of such magnitude that there should be before and after.” The crisis has highlighted a problem that Ceuta and Melilla have been facing for years: a lack of infrastructure for the care of minors and a lack of referral mechanisms to other Autonomous Communities responsible for caring for small migrants arriving in each territory. So, 16 communities agreed to accept about 200 minors who were already in Ceuta in 2020. “We have been asking for this for many years, mainly because we start with cities that have a very small area, which have a very high population density. And most of our territory does not belong to the municipality, but to the Ministry of Defense, for example, due to the fact that at that time we were designated as military posts,” Deu explains. “During the pandemic, we had to use several municipally owned premises in order to be able to provide this assistance, forced in this case because we were in quarantine,” he adds. In 2021, despite the volatile situation, government reception facilities were not handed over or made available, and the Center for Temporary Stay for Immigrants (CETI) agreed to change the medical protocol and accept asylum seekers only after complaints from human rights organizations.

Unprecedented Episode

“This particular episode [en mayo de 2021] this is unprecedented, this is a historic event,” notes Rashid Sbihi, civil guard and leader of the United Civil Guard Association in Ceuta, “it was a gathering of people like never before.” “Those of us who were there were overwhelmed until reinforcements arrived, but this human tide bordering the breakwater and entering Ceuta was practically uncontrollable.” Sbihi has been working since Monday morning, first in Benza, in the north, where the entrance of people, youth, women and even families with children began at dawn, and then in El Tarajal, where entry was unstoppable at noon, with thousands of people destroying the road leading in Castillejos (Morocco), about seven kilometers from the border with Spain.

Rashid Sbihi, secretary of the AUGC near the Benzu border in Ceuta.PACO BRIDGES

In Ceuta, communication with officers of the Moroccan army is mobile and constant, but the connections are almost personal. From the breakwaters that announce the international passage of El Tarajal, you can see the gratings installed on the Moroccan breakwater leading to the beach and preventing access to the sea from land, and raids are carried out with arrests of up to 200 people almost daily. , mostly sub-Saharan, around the fence. Its orography in Ceuta, steeper and more wooded than in Melilla, makes it difficult to observe from the Spanish side.

As a priority and necessary partner for migration control, the pulse of Morocco has heightened concerns about commitments in Rabat. The comings and goings of negotiations to open the border after two years of painful closures on both sides created a strangely heavy hope among businessmen, merchants, workers and families who lived in tension. Only after Madrid changed its position on Western Sahara and supported Rabat’s plan for the autonomy of the former Spanish colony did the dialogue resume. A week earlier, on March 2, up to 2,500 people staged the largest attempt to jump the Melilla fence in the city’s history. “We want and desire good relations with our neighbors, but these good relations must be based on respect, and respect means that actions like those that took place in May a year ago cannot take place,” Vivas adds.

Beyond the collapse of services in the city, which was limited in the early hours of uncertainty, and in the midst of restrictions and social distancing in the face of the health emergency, the crisis has brought to the surface an old fear: a threat to Morocco’s sovereignty. Ceuta and Melilla always answered. “There was no fear, there was panic because we didn’t know what was going to happen, but above all because we didn’t know if these people came because they needed help, or why,” says Alex Castillo, 28 -year old man. a summer waiter who runs a downtown canteen.

Benzou border in Ceuta, between Spain and Morocco.PACO BRIDGES

The far right has tried to capitalize politically on this fear, which has strained necessary coexistence to the breaking point in a city where half of its 85,000 residents self-identify as Muslims. “What happened in May exposed certain issues and if anyone still doubts that, I think Ceuta needs a state pact,” says Vivas, whose PP minority government has decided to rely on PSOE advisers to isolate Vox . Its leader, Santiago Abascal, was labeled persona non grata by the Assembly after he sat in Ceuta and accused politicians and neighbors with an Arabic name of being “fifth columns” and “pro-Moroccans.” “You have to fight fear,” Vivas agrees. “Fear is our main enemy.”

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