Spain and Morocco reopen land border crossings as relations improve

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MADRID — Land borders between Spain and Morocco at Ceuta and Melilla, Spain’s enclave cities in North Africa, have begun to reopen after being closed for just over two years due to the COVID pandemic. -19 and later of a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

Crowds gathered at the first border to reopen – Tarajal, in Ceuta, and Beni Enzar in Melilla – to watch the reopening at midnight on Monday.

The crossings were initially limited to residents of the Schengen area without an EU passport and their family members, and will be extended to cross-border workers by the end of the month.

Melilla regional president Eduardo de Castro told Spanish public radio RNE that traffic in the early hours went as planned.

“Things are completely normal, there are no massive crowds,” he said, adding that he expected it would take “several months” for customs checks to be completed. restored.

Local economies on both sides of the fences that separate Spain’s tiny enclaves from Morocco in northwest Africa depend heavily on the passages of goods and workers.

Madrid and Rabat are struggling to restore relations after a year-long feud centered on the disputed region of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony annexed by Morocco in 1976.

The reopening of land borders on Tuesday came exactly a year after Morocco eased controls around Ceuta, allowing thousands of migrants to cross into Spain. The move was widely seen as retaliation for Spain’s decision to allow the leader of the Western Sahara independence movement to be treated for COVID-19 in a Spanish hospital.

Tensions began to thaw earlier this year after Spain backed Morocco’s plan to grant more autonomy to Western Sahara, angering many residents of the former colony who want independence total.

Ferry traffic between the two countries resumed several weeks ago.

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