IN IMAGES: 6,000 migrants swim across to Spain’s Ceuta in record crossing

Spain is making international headlines after a record number of migrants crossed over from Morocco into Spain's North African enclave of Ceuta on Monday and Tuesday. These photos and videos showcase this unprecedented event in Spanish migration history.

IN IMAGES: 6,000 migrants swim across to Spain's Ceuta in record crossing
Tear gas fills the air as Moroccan migrants rally by a border fence in the northern town of Fnideq in an attempt to cross the border from Morocco to Spain's North African enclave of Ceuta on May 18, 2021.Photo: AFP

Tuesday’s newspapers in Spain have been dominated by the arrival of 6,000 undocumented migrants who crossed from Morocco over to the Spanish territory of Ceuta on Monday and Tuesday, as hundreds more tried to reach Spain’s north African enclave.

They reached Ceuta by swimming or by walking at low tide from beaches a few kilometres to the south, some using inflatable swimming rings and rubber dinghies.

Speaking after the weekly cabinet meeting, Spain’s Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said Spain had already returned “2,700 people” who had entered the territory illegally, updating an earlier figure of 1,500.

Migrants slip through a border fence in the northern town of Fnideq in an attempt to cross the border from Morocco to Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta on May 18th, 2021. Photo: FADEL SENNA /AFP

The massive influx, which was a record number for a single day, had steadily made their way into Ceuta throughout the day on Monday, prompting a crisis in the tiny territory which is home to some 84,000 people.

A spokesman for the Spanish government delegation in Ceuta said the numbers arriving Monday were unprecedented.

The migrants had reached the enclave by swimming or walking at low tide from beaches in neighbouring Morocco, he added. None had been hospitalised and “they are doing well”, he said.

A Spanish soldier stands guard as migrants reach Ceuta’s shores. Photo: Antonio Sempere / AFP

The unprecedented number of arrivals, which occurred at a time of tension in Madrid’s ties with Rabat, prompted Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to cancel a trip to Paris later on Tuesday where he was to attend an Africa financing summit, the government said.

Meanwhile, the local authorities in Melilla, Spain’s other north African enclave, said more than 300 migrants had tried to cross the barrier into the territory before dawn on Tuesday, with 86 of them succeeding.

The EU commissioner for home affairs, Ylva Johansson, on Tuesday urged Morocco to “prevent irregular departures” of migrants after some 6,000 entered Spain’s Ceuta enclave from the North African country.

Moroccan migrants on the shore of the northern town of Fnideq as they attempt to cross the border from Morocco to Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta. Photo: FADEL SENNA/AFP

Johansson, speaking to the European Parliament, called the ongoing migrant arrivals to Ceuta “worrying” and said: “The most important thing now is that Morocco continues to commit to prevent irregular departures, and that those that do not have the right to stay are orderly and effectively returned. Spanish borders are European borders.”

Spanish Civil guards pull a migrant into an inflatable boat as he nears the shores of Ceuta. Photo: Antonio Sempere/AFP

More than 80 migrants also crossed a high barrier from Morocco into Melilla Tuesday, local authorities said, as thousands of others entered into Spain’s other North African enclave of Ceuta.


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How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.