Over 8,000 people crossed the border from Morocco into Spain in two days, creating and unprecedented migration crisis in the region. Christians in Ceuta: “The situation is volatile, this could explode at any time. Please pray for the city”.
In two days, over 8,000 people crossed to Spanish territory after the Moroccan government relaxed the security measures, in what has been widely described as a diplomatic challenge. The reduction of security measures on the Moroccan side led to a coordinated effort of large groups of people (including minors - over 1,500, youth and adults) that swam around the sea border fences that divide the two countries. Dramatic images of Spanish police officers entering the water to rescue small children were seen.
Ceuta’s regional President described the situation as a planned “invasion”.
[photo_footer] Military reinforcements were sent to the border as hundreds still waited for the best moment to cross into Spain, 18 May 2021. / Photo: RTVE snapshot.
Faced with a major diplomatic crisis, Spain’s President Pedro Sánchez travelled to Ceuta. Military forces were deployed to Ceuta, both to “restore order in the city” and reinforce the borders.
On Wendesday 19 May, Moroccan police restored the presence of its security forces and effectively stopped almost all attempts to cross the border. By then, Spanish authorities had returned 4,800 migrants back to Morocco.
This escalation of tension comes after several diplomatic clashes between Spain and Morocco in relation to the Sahrawi conflict. Another factor has been the closing of the border between the two countries since March 2020 due to the pandemic, a decision that has further worsened the economic situation in the region.
“There is no work here and we need to eat, we are going to Spain”, a young man told a TVE reporter as he and other dozens approached the maritime fence of Ceuta.
In Ceuta, the population is overwhelmed by a situation they had not seen before. This is what Spanish news website Protestante Digital confirmed with a member of an evangelical church in the city on Tuesday 18 May.
“They are thousands of Moroccan youth that have suddenly entered. There are also families, and there has already been a man who drowned trying to reach the beach of Ceuta, and could not be reanimated despite being rescued by Guardia Civil [Spanish border police] officers”.
[photo_footer]A police officer and a Red Cross worker rescue a girl from the water, 18 May 2021. / Photo: Guardia Civil.
This source walked through some of Ceuta’s streets, and perceived an environment of tense expectation. “I’ve seen many young people wandering, the park is full of men sleeping on the grass. As I got home, a neighbour was offering some food to a group of younger people who spent the night close to where I live”.
What is most worrying is the feeling that the Spanish city has not the capacity of providing for so many people. “As I speak, I see more people though my window. The situation is volatile, this could explode at any time. Please pray for the city, that nothing triggers a tragedy. We need prayer”, the neighbour adds.
He and other believers are trying to be of use in the midst of the situation. “I have been able to give some New Testaments which have been well received. But we are not equipped to serve food, and we do not have a space to store food. Additionally, the evangelical churches here are going through economic difficulties as well. Cáritas [a Catholic relief organisation] is doing a good job, going around with a van delivering bags of food to these migrants. Premises for 100 or 150 people have worked well this year, but these are now overwhelmed as well”.
The whole situation is “very frustrating”, the source says. Many Ceuta citizens have a sense of “indignation, because an avalanche like this responds to a political strategy [of the Moroccan government]”.
But at the same time, “we want to show our regard for people and we do not want them to be hurt because we understand their hopelessness. Many come here thinking they will swiftly be able to go to Europe, but this is not true. In other words – someone is lying to them”.
[photo_footer]Groups of migrants on the Moroccan side approach the Spanish city of Ceuta, 18 May 2021. / Photo: Snapshot RTVE.
As the hours advance, political decisions are expected to lead the crisis in one direction or another. This is why this evangelical urges to “pray for the security in this city and for the wisdom of our rulers, both those here in Ceuta and those on a national level”.
According to the Spanish Commission of Support for the Refugee, the GDP per capita of Spain is ten times higher than that of Morocco: “this is an economic abyss only separated by a 8 kilometre fence in Ceuta”.