Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has met up with his Moroccan counterpart in Rabat to reset his country's "strategic partnership" with regard to migration and economic partnership. The Spanish exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla were also major topics of discussion.
Spain and Morocco came to 20 agreements on Thursday (January 2) regarding migration management and increasing investment in Morocco. It was the first high-level meeting between the two nations since 2015.
At the talks in Rabat, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez declared a "new stage in relations" between the two countries. The meeting was aimed at pacifying diplomatic tensions tied to the disputed Western Sahara - a former Spanish colony annexed by Morocco in 1975.
Tensions between Spain and Morocco had peaked in 2021 when Brahim Ghali, leader of the Polisario Front, which seeks independence for Western Sahara, was treated for COVID-19 in a Spanish hospital.
But Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch said "Moroccan-Spanish relations have never reached this level of cooperation and coordination."
Moroccans make up the single largest foreign community in Spain, with around 800,000 residents.
What was said about migration?
At the meeting, which involved 11 Spanish ministers and 13 from the Moroccan government, the two countries signed two memorandums on migration. Sanchez referred to Morocco as an ally in helping EU migration policies.
Both leaders said their countries were progressing in preparations to open customs offices in Ceuta and Melilla, Spain's two North African enclaves which Morocco doesn't officially recognize as European territories. However, no opening date was given.
Last year, at least 23 migrants – many reportedly refugees from Sudan – died when they tried to cross a border fence at Melilla in 2022. There have been further fatalities before; the deaths intensified scrutiny of border police on both sides.
Deporting irregular migrants
Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska is set to ask his Moroccan counterpart Abdelouafi Laftit to help return deportation numbers of irregular migrants to pre-COVID levels, according to a ministry official, French news agency AFP reported.
The EU has given millions of euros to Rabat in recent years to limit irregular migration, which peaked in Spain in 2018 with around 64,000 arrivals.
EU officials have said Morocco helped decrease that figure to 31,000 in 2022. Of that number, almost 29,000 arrived on the Spanish mainland or its Canary Islands, mostly on small boats.
Thousands more have died or vanished at sea over the years.
with AFP and AP