Spain deployed troops, military trucks and helicopters in its North African enclave of Ceuta on Tuesday after thousands of people crossed over from Morocco, one of the largest movements of migrants reported in the area in recent years.
More than 6,000 migrants, including 1,500 minors, arrived on the beaches of Ceuta on Monday and Tuesday, mostly swimming or aboard inflatable boats, according to the Spanish authorities, who said that Spain had already sent back 2,700 people.
The sudden arrival of thousands of people in Ceuta — more than had attempted the crossing in all the rest of the year so far — comes amid a deepening diplomatic spat between Spain and Morocco over the hospitalization in Spain of the leader of a rebel group that has fought for the independence of Western Sahara from Morocco.
Videos broadcast on Spanish television on Tuesday appeared to show Moroccan border guards opening fences to the Spanish enclave. While Morocco has warned of “consequences” for harboring the rebel leader, it was not immediately clear if the spike in migration was linked to the diplomatic dispute.
International Organization for Migration with the coronavirus pandemic having likely forced more migrants to migrate through that route.
“Many of those trying to reach the Canary Islands came from Senegal and were forced to leave because of the impact of the pandemic on fishing in particular,” said Julia Black, a project officer at the organization’s Global Migration Data Analysis Center and the report’s author.
Polisario Front, a separatist movement that has been fighting for Western Sahara’s independence from Morocco.
Moroccan officials have reacted with anger over the news that the leader, Brahim Ghali, had been hospitalized with Covid-19 in Spain under an alias. The Moroccan foreign ministry said this month that the authorities would “draw all consequences” from Spain’s “premeditated” decision to treat Mr. Ghali.