The land borders between Morocco and the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla reopened on the night of Monday 16 May to Tuesday 17 May after more than two years of closure due to the COVID-19 crisis and the diplomatic row recently dissipated.
An AFP journalist said the EU’s only land border gates on the African continent opened shortly after 11pm local time – midnight Spanish time (2200 GMT) – allowing dozens of cars and queues of pedestrians to pass in both directions.
At the Fnideq border crossing, the workers across the border do not hide their joy: ecstatic smiles light up the faces of concessionaires who find their families on the Moroccan side, to the sound of boats, in a festive atmosphere. “I have been stuck for two years in Ceuta, and I am very happy to be back home”Noureddine explains that he is in a hurry to finally find Moroccan soil. Go to sex, abound: “I am glad that Morocco and Spain have restored their relations, this allows us to find our families.”
However, the reopening of the borders of the two enclaves located in the north of Morocco, opposite Spain, remains limited as it concerns only holders of passports and visas from countries of the Schengen area.
It is forbidden to resume smuggling
Moroccan cross-border workers, who are exempt from entry visas to Ceuta and Melilla, will have to wait until May 31 to enter. In addition, the Moroccan authorities decided to ban the resumption of smuggling, which was allowed until the fall of 2019 between Ceuta and the Moroccan cross-border city of Fnideq.
This movement irrigated the local economy, but deprived Moroccan customs of significant revenue: between 6 and 8 billion dirhams (between 550 and 760 million euros) each year. In order to put an end to this, the Rabat authorities in October 2019 closed the crossings intended for companies transporting tax-exempt goods between the Spanish autonomous city of Ceuta and Moroccan territory.
To offset the end of smuggling, in February 2022 Moroccan authorities opened a Zone of Economic Activity (ZAE) in Fnideq. This project, which provides for the creation of more than 1,000 direct jobs, required an investment of 200 million dirhams (19 million euros).
The Ceuta and Melilla border crossings were closed during the first wave of the COVID-19 epidemic in March 2020. The blockade continued due to the diplomatic crisis that erupted a year ago between the two neighboring countries over their dispute over disputed territories in Western Sahara.
Amazing transformation in Madrid
Madrid ended this cold wave on March 18 after it achieved an amazing turnaround and recognized Rabat’s proposed autonomy plan for this former Spanish colony. The conflict in Western Sahara – a vast desert region rich in phosphates and fish-infested waters – has pitted Morocco against the Sahrawi separatists of the Polisario Front, backed by Algeria, for decades.
The dispute between Rabat and Madrid, caused by the reception of Polisario leader Ibrahim Ghali in Spain, for treatment in a Spanish hospital in April 2021 for treatment there of the Corona virus, led to the arrival in Ceuta in May. 2021 among more than 10,000 migrants in 24 hours, thanks to the relaxation of border controls on the Moroccan side.
The reconciliation recently reached between Madrid and Rabat has made it possible to re-launch bilateral cooperation, particularly regarding migration issues. Passenger cruises between the two neighboring countries resumed on April 12.
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