MADRID (Dispatches) -In a bid to prevent more people’s arrival in Ceuta, Spain has upped security along its shared border with Morocco, fired tear gas into the buffer zone between the countries, and returned people who have managed to cross into its enclave in North Africa.
More than 8,000 people – mostly men, but also some women and children – entered Ceuta on Monday and Tuesday after swimming around a breakwater that extends into the Mediterranean Sea, or climbing over the border fence that separates the Spanish territory from Morocco.
More people arrived on Wednesday, although in far lower numbers, after both countries moved to stem crossings.
Ceuta, with a population of 80,000, is on the northern tip of Morocco across from Gibraltar.
“We have never seen such an arrival of this magnitude,” said Red Cross spokeswoman Isa Brasero. “The city has the means to take care of all the people that arrive to its shores, but you never imagine that you will face this type of situation.”
On their side, Moroccan police on Wednesday drove hundreds of young men away from the border fence and stopped others from approaching.
The number of arrivals by sea had slowed, and some refugees were voluntarily returning to Morocco, a Reuters reporter on the ground said. A few others could be seen being carried away by soldiers. Footage of the beach at around 8 p.m. local time showed that nearly all the refugees had been cleared.
Spain said approximately 4,000 refugees had already been sent back to Morocco, under a readmission deal.
European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas also said in a post on Twitter that the enclave’s frontier was a European border, expressing his “full solidarity with Spain.”
Spain also summoned Morocco’s ambassador to express displeasure at the mass arrivals in Ceuta.
Immediately afterwards, Morocco’s Foreign Ministry said it had recalled its ambassador from Spain.
Analysts say Morocco is intentionally looking the other way as the refugees arrive in Ceuta to place diplomatic pressure on Spain to recognize its sovereignty over Western Sahara.