Morocco promised whoever crossed the border to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta could watch Messi and Ronaldo play football there. That encouraged thousands of children to make the crossing at the end of April. The European Parliament condemns this violation of children’s rights.
In a resolution, the European Parliament speaks predominantly about the use of children as a means of pressure in a diplomatic conflict. 397 votes were in favour of the resolution with 85 against and 196 abstentions. The resolution refers to Morocco’s inviolability of the national borders of EU Member States and the EU’s position on Western Sahara. It also refers to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Morocco signed in 1990.
The first accusation of human rights violations against Morocco in 25 years insinuates children were used ‘as cannon fodder’. Even the protests in the Rif in 2017 did not elicit such a response from Strasbourg.
Rise in Western Sahara
The cause of this drama in Ceuta is a diplomatic row between Morocco and Spain. This arose when the leader of Polisario, which has been fighting for an independent Western Sahara since 1973, entered a Spanish hospital for humanitarian reasons in April.
Western Sahara was a Spanish colony until 1975. However, when the Spanish dictator Franco was dying, attention waned and Morocco was able to annex the area. Spain then concluded an agreement giving Morocco control over two-thirds of Western Sahara. However, Polisario continued to fight for independence. Attempts by the UN to find a solution have not succeeded.
Morocco puts pressure on EU
In the battle for Western Sahara, Morocco is now putting pressure on the European Union. Last year, Trump recognised Morocco’s sovereignty over the region, bolstering King Mohammed VI’s position. Europe is not waiting for a new revival of the struggle for Western Sahara.
The EU believes an agreement must be reached under the umbrella of the UN and according to Security Council resolutions. However, the EU is reacting cautiously to Morocco. The North African country is an important partner for trade, as well as stability in the region and in the fight against terrorism and migratory flows.
Guarding boundaries as the main motivation
According to the left-wing Spanish deputy Miguel Urbán, for the majority of MEPs, all that matters is that Morocco guards its borders well. “The rights of Western Sahara, of journalists or activists who are imprisoned or of immigrants, matter little.” In the debate, Urbán indicated he finds it hypocritical to talk about violations of human rights by Morocco, as Spain often sends illegal immigrants back to Morocco without following procedures.
The radical right-wing Vox distanced itself from the vote. It criticised Morocco’s lack of condemnation and the EU’s inability to tackle the refugee problem. The latter, it believes, leaves the EU open to blackmail. With the exception of Vox, all Spanish parties in the European Parliament unanimously voted in favour of the resolution.