Spanish authorities carried out mass expulsions of migrants on Wednesday from its North African enclave of Ceuta after thousands crossed from Morocco. On Tuesday, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted in support of the Spanish Government, claiming a solution to EU migration could be achieved with a “New Pact on Migration”.
She wrote: “EU stands in solidarity with Ceuta & Spain.
“We need common EU solutions to migration management.
“This can be achieved with agreement on the New Pact on Migration.
“Stronger partnerships based on mutual trust & joint commitments with key partners like Morocco are crucial.”
But her comments were promptly lambasted by Swedish MEP Charlie Weimers, who mocked Mrs von der Leyen in response.
He wrote: “EU stands in solidarity with Ceuta & Spain.
“We need to secure our border.
“This can be achieved by implementing the Australian model in Europe.
“Sanctions against governments encouraging citizens to enter Europe illegally are crucial.
“Said no one from the EU Commission ever.”
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Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said as many as 4,800 of the more than 8,000 who entered Ceuta during the previous two days had been sent back, and security forces on both sides intervened to prevent more from crossing.
Mr Sanchez told parliament: “We are carrying out the immediate handover of those who have entered irregularly.”
On Wednesday morning, Spanish soldiers in combat gear and police officers were escorting some swimmers directly back to Morocco, while Moroccan police drove hundreds of young men away from the border fence.
The Spanish enclave’s leader had earlier accused Moroccan authorities of failing to police their side of the border actively, and linked that to a decision by Madrid to admit a rebel leader from Western Sahara, a territory held by Morocco, to a Spanish hospital for treatment.
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On Wednesday Morocco’s minister of state for human rights, El Mustapha Ramid, suggested Rabat had a right to relax border controls over the hospitalisation of Polisario leader Brahim Ghali.
He said in a Facebook post: “What did Spain expect from Morocco, which sees its neighbour hosting the head of a group that took up arms against the kingdom?
“Morocco has the right to lean back and stretch its legs…so that Spain knows that underestimating Morocco is costly.”
Mr Sanchez did not make that connection, calling the north African nation a friend of Spain, while the interior ministry praised Morocco’s cooperation over the migrant readmissions.
Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said on Wednesday morning in a radio interview that Spain has always been “exquisitely prudent” regarding Western Sahara.
She said Spain never intended to give Ghali’s hospitalisation “an aggressive character”.
Rabat recalled its ambassador to Madrid for consultations, said a diplomatic source who declined to be named, adding that relations with Spain needed a moment of “contemplation”.
Moroccan authorities did not respond to requests for comment.
The crisis between the two countries is the most serious since a territorial spat over the islet of Perejil in 2002.