The border posts between Morocco and the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla reopened overnight from Monday to Tuesday after more than two years of closure due to the Covid-19 crisis and a diplomatic quarrel recently dispelled. The gates opened shortly after 11 p.m. local time/midnight Spanish time in front of a few dozen cars heading to Ceuta.
Located in the north of Morocco, opposite Spain, the tiny enclave of Ceuta and that of Melilla are the only land borders of the European Union on the African continent. But their reopening is still limited since it only concerns holders of passports and visas from countries in the Schengen zone.
End of smuggling
Moroccan cross-border workers, exempt from visas to access Ceuta and Melilla, will still have to wait until May 31 to enter. In addition, the Moroccan authorities have decided to prohibit the resumption of smuggling, tolerated until autumn 2019 between Ceuta and the Moroccan cross-border city of Fnideq.
This traffic irrigated the local economy but it deprived Moroccan customs of significant revenue: between six and eight billion dirhams (550-750 million euros) each year. In order to put an end to it, the authorities of Rabat had closed in October 2019 the crossing points dedicated to carriers of tax-free goods between the Spanish autonomous city of Ceuta and Moroccan territory.
Covid and diplomatic crisis
To compensate for the end of smuggling, the Moroccan authorities inaugurated in February 2022 an economic activity zone (ZAE) in Fnideq. This project, providing for the creation of more than 1,000 direct jobs, required an investment of 200 million dirhams (19 million euros).
The Ceuta and Melilla border crossings were closed during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020. The blockage continued due to the diplomatic crisis triggered a year ago between the two neighboring countries by their dispute over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.
Polisario leader treated in Spain
Madrid put an end to this cold spell on March 18 after having made a spectacular turnaround and recognized the autonomy plan proposed by Rabat for this former former Spanish colony. The Western Sahara conflict – a vast desert territory rich in phosphates and with abundant waters – has pitted Morocco against the Sahrawi separatists of the Polisario Front, supported by Algeria, for decades.
The quarrel between Rabat and Madrid, caused by the reception in Spain of the leader of the Polisario, Brahim Ghali, treated in a Spanish hospital in April 2021 to be treated there for Covid-19, had led to the arrival in Ceuta in May 2021 of more than 10,000 migrants in 24 hours, thanks to a relaxation of border controls on the Moroccan side. The reconciliation sealed recently between Madrid and Rabat has made it possible to relaunch bilateral cooperation, particularly on migration issues. Maritime connections for passengers between the two neighboring countries resumed on April 12.