CEUTA, Spain (AP) — Spain deployed its military to the Moroccan border Tuesday as thousands of migrants jumped fences or swam onto European soil for the second day in a row after Rabat loosened border controls amid a deepening diplomatic spat.
Overwhelmed soldiers separated the adults from the young and carried children in their arms while Red Cross workers helped an endless trickle of migrants who were emerging from the water shivering and exhausted. One unconscious woman laid on the sand before she was carried away on a stretcher.
The sudden influx of migrants has fueled the diplomatic spat between Rabat and Madrid over the disputed Western Sahara region and created a humanitarian crisis for Ceuta, the Spanish city of 85,000 in North Africa on the Mediterranean Sea, separated from Morocco by a double-wide, 10-meter (32-feet) fence.
Video cameras captured how some people rushed up the hills surrounding the city and jumped over the double fence.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez canceled a trip to Paris, where he was to attend a summit on international aid to Africa, and announced an imminent visit to the southern city. While calling Morocco a “friend of Spain,” Sánchez also urged authorities to “respect the shared border.”
By Tuesday morning, at least 6,000 sea-soaked people had crossed the border into Ceuta since early Monday, the Spanish government said, including 1,500 thought to be teenagers. The number getting in slowed but didn’t stop Tuesday even as Spain deployed additional police and soldiers to the border.
Some 2,700 adults were already returned to Morocco, according to Spain’s Interior Ministry. Morocco and Spain signed an agreement three decades ago to expel all those who swim across the border.
Yet many arriving Tuesday were sub-Saharan Africans who are usually fleeing poverty or violence back home. Spain has agreements to return some of those migrants to their native countries but not all.
By Tuesday afternoon, Moroccan authorities closed the road leading to the border post with Ceuta and anti-riot police dispersed crowds of would-be migrants.
Morocco’s loosened border watch came after Spain decided to grant entry for medical treatment to the chief of a militant group that fights Morocco for the independence of Western Sahara. Morocco annexed the sprawling region on the west coast of Africa in 1975.