Spain and Morocco are seeking to cooperate in reducing irregular border crossings after resolving a year-long diplomatic crisis over a dispute relating to the territory of Western Sahara.
Spain and Morocco want to jointly discourage migrants from irregularly crossing the Mediterranean to Spain, with the repatriation of irregular immigrants from Spain to the African continent as the main deterrent.
Repatriation is "an important element to discourage people," the Europa Press news agency quoted Spain's secretary of state for security, Rafael Pérez, as saying.
This would also benefit the fight against smugglers, Pérez was quoted as saying at a meeting between the two states in Rabat, the Moroccan capital.
In addition, the resumption of joint patrols off the coasts of both countries, which were interrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic, was agreed upon, Spanish newspaper El País reported on Saturday.
On Sunday least 44 migrants drowned off the coast of the Western Sahara after their boat capsized. The 12 survivors of the tragedy were reportedly arrested and the bodies of seven victims were brought back to shore, but the others could not be retrieved, according to migrant aid agency Caminando Fronteras.
According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, a total of 10,452 people who arrived in Spain by irregular means were counted since the beginning of this year until May 1. Most of them arrived from North and West Africa via the Atlantic on the Canary Islands, which belong to Spain. Meanwhile, 1,400 out of the 10,452 arrived via the Spanish North African exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.
Mending diplomatic ties
The new contact between representatives of Spain and Morocco became possible after Spain gave in to a decades-long dispute regarding the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara which is now occupied by Morocco.
Diplomatic tensions began last year when Madrid allowed Brahim Ghali, leader of the Polisario Front -- which is seeking independence for Western Sahara, to be treated for COVID-19 in a Spanish hospital.
After Spanish colonial forces withdrew from Morocco in 1975, the country claimed Western Sahara as a key part of its own territory leading to a bitter war with the Polisario Front.
Morocco has accused Ghali of war crimes, and after his hospitalization in Spain last year, more than 8,000 migrants arrived at the Spanish enclave of Ceuta. The fact that Moroccan border guards failed to act was seen as a retaliatory move against Spain.
Last month, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI hosted Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez in a landmark visit putting an end to a year-long diplomatic crisis between the two states.
Spain to back Morocco's plan on Western Sahara
Madrid now supports Rabat's plan to make the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara an autonomous province under Moroccan sovereignty.
Western Sahara is home to rich Atlantic fishing waters, phosphate resources as well as providing a route to lucrative markets in West Africa. Morocco also announced that it would start importing gas using Spanish liquid natural gas terminals by reactivating an idled pipeline.
In the new deal, Morocco and Spain have agreed to work on the demarcation of Atlantic sea borders, resume sea travel and reinforce cooperation on migration, economy, energy, industry and culture.
Sanchez hailed the "historic moment," however the majority of Spanish lawmakers, including from the left- and right-wing opposition voted in a resolution against the foreign policy change.