Refugees in Ceuta: what are the lessons?

Spain has sent home most of the more than 8,000 adult refugees who crossed the border between Morocco and the enclave of Ceuta last week. Apparently, Rabat had loosened its controls on migration flows in retaliation for Spain allowing Brahim Ghali, leader of the Western Sahara liberation movement Polisario Front, to be treated in a Spanish hospital.

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La Vanguardia (ES) /

Madrid between a rock and a hard place

Spain's government is facing a serious dilemma, writes La Vanguardia:

“If the leader of the Polisario Front is able to leave Spain or flee after his recovery, the tensions with Morocco will increase. If, on the other hand, he is arrested because, accused by a pro-Moroccan association of rape, terrorism, torture and human rights crimes, he fails to comply with the summons by the Audiencia Nacional court, the tensions will increase with Algeria - the country that is allied with the Polisario Front, organised Ghali's journey to Spain and on which Spain depends for its natural gas supplies.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

The same quarrels as in 2015

Many are comparing the current situation to that in 2015, but back then the refugee numbers were far higher, The Irish Times points out:

“A more worrying parallel can be found in the reaction of some European nations to such events, with the swift return to old arguments over solidarity showing how little has changed since the bloc descended into rancorous bickering over shared responsibility six years ago. Today, the EU is no closer to a comprehensive and humane system for dealing with large numbers of people arriving illicitly on its shores. A migration pact proposed by the European Commission last September included a mechanism for redistributing new arrivals across the bloc, but countries including Hungary and Poland are fighting it.”

El País (ES) /

Long-term consequences of Trump's disastrous policies

Journalist Lluís Bassets explains in El País how the current crisis is linked to US foreign policy:

“At the origin is Donald Trump and his Arab legacy: a field sown with explosives from Morocco to Jerusalem. The result of all those strategic decisions that stem from his lack of respect for international law, his worship of money and force, and the alliance he forged with Benjamin Netanyahu. ... Even after he had been voted out of office he recognised Morocco's sovereignty over Western Sahara as a reward to Rabat for resuming diplomatic relations with Israel. That was his Middle East peace plan, in which the Palestinians had as little say as the international institutions - and the Sahrawis and their republic in the dunes even less.”

Le Quotidien (LU) /

Europe going round in circles

The pressure to migrate is great not only in Morocco, Le Quotidien stresses:

“On Lampedusa the number of migrants heading for the Sicilian coast is increasing. ... And their numbers are not about to go down because the six summer months allow for 'safer' crossings. These needy people have exposed themselves to danger to find a good life on our continent. However, their arrival in Europe is only one stage in their odyssey. European countries continue to bicker about who will take them in: some call for solidarity, others open their door, others slam them shut, not only abandoning their 'partners' but also quickly forgetting the principle of solidarity. The 'world after' is truly the spitting image of the 'world before'.”

infoLibre (ES) /

Morocco pursuing a strategy

infoLibre explains why Spain should take the bilateral crisis with its neighbour seriously:

“Morocco is using the migration to blackmail Spain and prevent it from taking a clear and favourable stance towards the Sahrawi Republic [Western Sahara]. With these methods it aims to strengthen its leading role in the Maghreb region, landing a neighbouring European state in trouble in the process. In the long run, Morocco wants to extend its expansionism to Ceuta, Melilla and the Canary Islands. In the economic sphere, Morocco is exerting pressure to get more money for controlling the borders as a kind of subcontractor. And indirectly, it hopes to obtain certain commercial benefits in exchange for calming the situation. This strategy has worked in recent decades.”

ABC (ES) /

Madrid carelessly snubbed Rabat

Spain's Prime Minister Sánchez has contributed to the escalation by disregarding basic diplomatic rules, criticises ABC:

“The government has allowed the leader of the Polisario Front [Western Sahara liberation movement], Brahim Ghali, whom the [Moroccan] judiciary is pursuing, to be treated secretly in a Spanish hospital without even informing Morocco that this was for humanitarian reasons. ... In diplomacy, the formal gestures are as crucial as the underlying interests. But Sánchez has miscalculated the consequences of alienating Morocco, which must always remain a strategic ally no matter how tense the situation becomes.” (ES) /

That's what you get when you outsource

The EU's policy of shifting responsibility for monitoring its borders onto others is taking its toll, writes

“On paper, the plan is ingenious: instead of the EU's own states having to use their police forces and armies to implement strict immigration policies, they decided to subcontract African countries to do the dirty work - out of sight and as far as possible from our borders, in transit countries or directly in the countries of origin. ... But as always happens with outsourcing, what was cheap ends up being expensive. There's always one recalcitrant subcontractor who wants to renegotiate the terms, raise the price or quarrel with the client. Then he suspends the service for a few days, as Morocco seems to have done with Ceuta. The result: a breach of contract, poor service, customer complaints and damage to one's reputation.”

La Stampa (IT) /

The fear of invasion

The refugees are being used as "weapons of mass migration", La Stampa writes, borrowing a term coined by political scientist Kelly Greenhill:

“This is an anything but covert means of applying pressure, this human bomb used in the most treacherous of asymmetrical wars. The outrage over the defenceless newborn rescued from the waves off the coast of Ceuta lasts just as long as the thought that it could be our own son. Then the image fades, just as the image of Alan Kurdi faded in its day, and the focus remains only on the numbers. These are irrelevant, nevertheless they are perceived as being so high that they can be used as a weapon. For the fear of invasion, which has grown with economic insecurity, has rendered the West even more vulnerable.”

Der Spiegel (DE) /

Create legal routes to the EU

Inhumane strategies are not the only way to keep migration manageable, Der Spiegel points out:

“Germany, France, Sweden and others should form a 'coalition of the willing' to strengthen the right of asylum. This coalition would have to create legal routes for refugees to come to Europe. These could entail humanitarian visas as well as family reunification or job initiatives. And it must finally invest more in the United Nations resettlement programme, which transfers asylum seekers from third countries such as Jordan to host countries in an orderly manner. Only in this way can the paradox be resolved according to which those seeking protection must first cross the border illegally via often murderous routes in order to then be able to apply for asylum legally in the EU.”

Tygodnik Powszechny (PL) /

A habit of silent consent

Parallel to the events in Ceuta, the private rescue ship Sea-Eye 4 has saved more than 400 people from distress at sea since Saturday. The suffering in the Mediterranean has become an everyday occurrence, Tygodnik Powszechny laments:

“Migrants and refugees deceived and pressured by smugglers are dying by the dozen in dreadful circumstances. We know this, but their deaths have become a permanent phenomenon for us. In the public's eye it is as much a part of the Mediterranean as war is to the Middle East (which is equally wrong). It is not that we are indifferent. It is more like a bad habit that encourages silent consent to the nightmarish status quo, a 'grey zone' where many things and irregularities occur.”