Between Ceuta and Gibraltar (1)

Thousands of refugees try to reach the Spanish enclave on Moroccan land

By Adam Smith, Internationalist Socialist League (RCIT Section in Israel / Occupied Palestine), 20 May 2021,

In the last days thousands of migrants tried to reach Ceuta – the North African enclave on Moroccan land but under control of the Spanish imperialist state.

“Spain’s prime minister arrived in the north African enclave of Ceuta vowing to “restore order” after an unprecedented 8,000 migrants crossed into the territory over 36 hours, deepening the tense diplomatic standoff between Madrid and Rabat. After a day of veiled recriminations, Morocco on Tuesday recalled its ambassador from Spain for consultation. Relations with Spain need a moment of “contemplation”, a diplomatic source told Reuters. Thousands of people – ranging from teenagers from neighbouring Morocco to sub-Saharan Africans and mothers cradling babies – swam and made use of inflatable rafts to navigate their way around the breakwater that marks the border between the two countries. About 2,000 of them are believed to be minors.” (2)

The latest migration attempt is probably caused by the Moroccans border guards looking the other way, because of the hospitalization of a Sahrawi rebel leader in Spain. The economic situation around COVID-19 is also no doubt contributing.

“On Tuesday, Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, said anyone who had entered Ceuta and Melilla irregularly would be “immediately returned”, in keeping with a bilateral agreement that allows for the return of Moroccans who swim into the territory. “As the president of Spain, I believe firmly that Morocco is a partner country, it’s a country that is a friend of Spain and it should continue this way,” he added. “To be effective, this cooperation needs to always be based on respect. Respect for mutual borders.” Relations between Morocco and Spain have been strained after Madrid decided to allow Brahim Ghali, the leader of the Polisario Front, to be hospitalised in northern Spain after he contracted Covid-19. The Polisario Front has long fought for the independence of Western Sahara from Morocco.” (3)

“The EU commissioner for home affairs, Ylva Johansson, described the situation as worrying and said: “Spanish borders are European borders.” She added: “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.” (4)

The center-left’s support, as well as the EU’s support for the border clampdown, should be also noted. Before the EU’s existence, many Moroccans went to work on Spain’s farms with fewer legal hardships. “Morocco annexed the region on the west coast of Africa in 1975, scoring a diplomatic victory last year when Donald Trump’s US administration recognised Rabat’s sovereignty over the region in a deal aimed at normalising relations between Israel and Morocco. Spanish officials said the independence leader had been allowed to access medical treatment in Spain for “strictly humanitarian reasons.’” (5)

No doubt, the Moroccan regime is using those migrants cynically as pawns for their gains, like Erdoğan in Turkey. But this does not mean we should support Fortress Europe. This incident’s highlights the corrupt and reactionary deal between Morocco and the EU over migration, with the Moroccan border guard doing the dirty work for the EU, and the enormous potential if it were to stop collaborating with the EU and Spanish regimes, as they were completely overwhelmed yesterday.

Of course, the recent standoff between Morocco and Spain is not about Morocco seeking more independence from the forces of imperialism, but rather deepening its reactionary occupation of the Sahrawi people, after a boost and recognition from the USA and Israel.

Morocco, being a semi-colony, has a greater ability to show the hypocrisy of Spain, by, for example, pointing out that it has supported Spain’s territorial integrity against the Catalan independence referendum and that Spain has enclaves in Ceuta and Melilla (when Morocco has none in Spain, but Britain does, which Spain doesn’t like). It should be noted that Pablo Iglesias has said that he supports an independence referendum for the West Sahara region. He said he views the Sahrawi people as his brothers.

“Spain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is frustrated with Podemos party leader Pablo Iglesias and his calls for a referendum in Western Sahara. With Podemos a part of the Spanish coalition government and Iglesias serving as the country’s second deputy prime minister, the party’s pro-Polisario rhetoric complicates Spain’s relations with Morocco.” (6)

This is a notable change from the 1920’s, when Spain occupied Western Sahara and the left’s support of Spanish colonialism later led to Franco’s ability to recruit troops from Morocco which immensely helped Franco in the early stages of the civil war.

“After the Tragic Week of 1909, the Spanish government starting in 1911 tried to raise as many Regular units as possible to avoid further working class resistance to colonial wars as much of the Spanish working class had no desire to see their sons sent to Morocco, beginning a policy of what the Spanish historian Jose Alvarez called “Moroccanizing” the conquest of the Rif.[27] Following the difficulties and setbacks that it had experienced in 1909-11, the Spanish army began to adopt much in organization and tactics from the French North African forces garrisoning most of Morocco and neighboring Algeria. Particular attention was paid to the French Foreign Legion and a Spanish equivalent, the Tercio de Extranjeros (“Foreigners brigade”), known in English as the “Spanish Legion”, was formed in 1920. The regiment’s second commander was then-Col. Francisco Franco, having risen rapidly through the ranks.[28] In the Rif war, it was the Regulares and the Spanish Foreign Legion founded in 1919 that provided the elite forces that won Spain the war.[29] Less than 25% of this “Foreign Legion” were, in fact, non-Spanish. Harshly disciplined and driven, they quickly acquired a reputation for ruthlessness. As their number grew, the Spanish Legion and the Regulares increasingly led offensive operations after the disasters that had been suffered by the conscript forces.” (7)

The Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT) calls for:

* For Open Borders! Down with Fortress Europe!

* Down with the Western Sahara Occupation by Morocco!

* Down with the Abrahams Accords with Israel and the US!

* Down with the Monarchy in Morocco!

* Down with the Spanish Regime!







6) “…Reitera su empeño en que celebre, sin más demora, un referéndum libre, limpio e imparcial para la libre determinación del pueblo del Sáhara Occidental…” Consejo de Seguridad de las Naciones Unidas (13 de enero de 1995)” (


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We refer readers also to this statement: Western Sahara: Down with the Aggression of the Moroccan Monarchy! Joint Statement of the Revolutionary Socialist Vanguard (Nigeria), Revolutionary Socialist League (Kenya) and the Africa Bureau of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency, 18th November 2020,

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