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Spain, Morocco to open land borders next week after 2 years

By Via AP news wire
Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

The land borders between Morocco and Spain's North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla will reopen next week, Spain said Thursday, after being closed for more than two years due to COVID-19 restrictions and tensions between the two countries.

Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska told reporters the reopening will start gradually from May 17. Crossings will be initially limited to residents of Europe's passport-free Schengen area and their family members, and will be expanded to cross-border workers by the end of the month.

The local economies on both sides of the fences that slice off the tiny Spanish enclaves from Morocco depend on the crossings of goods and workers.

Thursday's announcement came as Madrid and Rabat are working to mend relations after a months-long spat centered on the disputed region of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony annexed by Morocco in 1976. Tensions began to thaw earlier this year after Spain backed Morocco’s plan to grant more autonomy to Western Sahara.

That decision — a reversal of Spain’s longstanding position of neutrality on Western Sahara — came as a surprise to many and sparked anger among key political allies of Spain’s Socialist-led government. Morocco’s King Mohammed VI responded positively, however, sending back the Moroccan ambassador to Spain 10 months after she was recalled and hosting Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez in an April visit to Rabat.

The border is set to be opened exactly one year after Morocco loosened its border controls around the enclave of Ceuta, allowing thousands of migrants to cross into Spain. That move was widely seen as retaliation for Spain’s decision to allow the leader of Western Sahara’s pro-independence movement to be treated for COVID-19 at a Spanish hospital.

Morocco is considered critical in the fight against radical jihadi groups, as well as in holding back increasing numbers of African migrants seeking to reach Europe as they flee violence and poverty at home.

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Dive Deeper:
Spain, Morocco agree to reopen African land borders after two-year closure
The land borders between Morocco and Spain's north African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla will reopen next week, the authorities…
Morocco, Spain to Reopen Land Borders in Ceuta, Melilla
The land borders between Morocco and Spain’s North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla will reopen next week, Spain said…
North Africa’s Frozen Conflict
How the Biden Administration Can Resolve the Dispute Over Western Sahara
Netherlands backs Morocco's Western Sahara autonomy plan- statement
The Netherlands views Morocco's plan for autonomy for Western Sahara as serious and credible, it said on Wednesday, moving closer…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Israeli ambassador to Morocco is challenged with fighting anti-Israel narratives
Relations between Rabat and Jerusalem “very quickly returned to normal” after Operation Guardian of the Walls last year.
New Zealand to fully reopen borders for first time since Covid pandemic started
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern also announces shakeup of immigration to attract skilled workers back to the country
Get all your news in one place