Security forces fear Algeria will increase pressure on Spain through immigration

by Lorraine Williamson
Algeria claims it is a massacre

MADRID – Spanish security forces fear Algeria has relaxed border controls with Morocco to pressure Spain with immigration. 

Diplomatic relations between the two countries have cooled considerably since the Spanish government president’s abrupt change of position on the issue of Western Sahara.  

Easing controls at the border between Algeria and Morocco could divert the eastern route of African immigration to North Africa. The eastern route usually runs through Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia to other Mediterranean countries. 

Algeria accuses Morocco of ‘massacre’ 

Algeria yesterday, through a senior foreign ministry official, accused Morocco of a “massacre” during the attempted entry into Melilla of about 2,000 migrants from various African countries. The hundreds of people on the border fence, along with the police brutality and the lack of medical aid for the victims for hours on end by the Moroccan authorities, have caused 37 deaths, according to several NGOs. However, the Moroccan authorities have stated the number of deaths is 23. 

Amar Belani, responsible for the issue of Western Sahara and the Maghreb countries in the Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in the Algerian media: “These tragic events show the systematic violation of human rights by a state that has chosen to for political purposes, blackmail and to act as the gendarme of Europe in the context of outsourcing the management of the external borders of the European Union”. 

Algeria and Morocco have been at odds for decades. In March, relations deteriorated further after the announcement between Pedro Sánchez and Mohamed VI on the sovereignty of Western Sahara. In this context of ongoing verbal tension between the two countries, several sources in the Spanish security forces have warned the newspaper, El Mundo, that Algiers has “for months” been easing its control in the roughly 1,700-kilometer border it maintains with its neighbour. 

“Everyone plays their card as they can or want to. If Algeria is angry with Spain over the Saharan issue, it is not surprising that it is using immigration with its historic rival Morocco to create groups of foreigners near Melilla”. The distance between the Algerian border and Melilla is two hours by road, according to this Spanish intelligence source. 

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Greater porosity 

Another source who says he is in close contact with the Moroccan authorities added: “Until now, Algeria had a lock on the border with Morocco. Most of the Algerian immigrants arrived by boat. But now we have discovered a greater porosity in the border with Morocco. What if it could be a result of the agreement between Spain and Morocco? It is a possibility, without a doubt. A sign of this is that there are more and more Sudanese. Previously, they came in small groups and gave prefer the Libyan route. Now there are over 500 on the other side of the border with Melilla. Moreover, that does not include the ones that came in Friday and months ago. These people come from somewhere. Libya is indeed dangerous, but that is not the only cause. 

Sudanese refugees 

Last Friday, 133 migrants managed to reach Melilla. They were referred to the Temporary Residence Centre for Immigrants (CETI) in the autonomous city, where they are in quarantine. A large part of them came from Sudan, a country in East Africa and from which hardly any people came to the centre until a few years ago. 

Now, however, the Sudanese are in the majority. Of the 325 foreigners who registered with the Melilla CETI on June 21, 2022, 139 were Sudanese, according to a document consulted by El Mundo. That figure will be even higher after updating. 

Background to the conflict between Spain and Algeria 

On March 18, the Spanish government acknowledged it had reached an agreement with Morocco on granting autonomy to Western Sahara. That is a former Spanish colony under Moroccan sovereignty. Until then, Spain always pushed for a referendum on self-determination. That position was also defended by the UN. Since that pact was announced, relations between Madrid and Algiers have become tense, while Madrid and Rabat have returned to cordiality and cooperation. 

Just two weeks after the announcement of the agreement, on April 4, 2022, the Melilla CETI already housed 286 Sudanese, from the 828 migrants registered in the centre. Sudan was the second country of origin after Mali (326). Now it is already the first. The Sudanese nationality has recognition in 88% of asylum applications in Spain -one of the highest-. The asylum seekers are persecuted in their country and risk death if they return. Last year, a coup d’état took place in Sudan. 

In Nador, 21 graves are being prepared for emigrants. Who, as denounced by the Moroccan Human Rights Association, “will be buried without an autopsy or after being identified”.

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