Spain’s north African enclave of Ceuta has awoken to a humanitarian crisis after thousands of migrants who crossed over from Morocco spent the night sleeping where they could find shelter.
Exhausted by either scaling a double-wide border fence or swimming in the Mediterranean, some migrants spent the night in an overcrowded warehouse under the gaze of Spanish police.
More than 8,000 people crossed into the Spanish territory during the previous two days, with many risking their lives by swimming around a breakwater to reach a beach on the European side.
Spain’s Interior Ministry said that it had returned roughly half of the migrants, but there were many unaccompanied minors which Spanish law says must be taken into care by authorities.
Many shopkeepers kept their stores shuttered, while local schools in the city of 85,000 reported that attendance dropped by 60%.
While Morocco was tightening controls of a border after two days of allowing crossings, Spanish authorities increased their criticism of counterparts in Rabat.
“This is an act of defiance,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told Spain’s parliament, a day after he visited Ceuta.
“The lack of border control by Morocco is not a show of disrespect of Spain, but rather for the European Union.”
Foreign minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya also increased her tone on Wednesday, saying for the first time in public that Spain believes Morocco loosened its border control to retaliate for Spain having given medical assistance to the head of the Western Sahara liberation movement, a disputed territory to Morocco’s south.
“It tears our hearts out to see our neighbours sending children, even babies… (because) they reject a humanitarian gesture on our part,” Ms Gonzalez Laya told Spanish public radio.