Morocco failed to control its borders, says Spanish PM

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez arrives at the second day of a special EU summit in Brussels, Belgium May 25, 2021. Olivier Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS

MADRID (Reuters) - Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez accused Morocco of failing to protect its borders on Tuesday after thousands of migrants crossed into the North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla last week.

"The neighbour (Morocco) needs to control its borders as well, and this did not happen," Sanchez added. "We're talking about Spanish cities, about European borders, and this must be respected."

The comments came days after the biggest diplomatic crises between Spain and Morocco in decades as thousands of migrants swam into or attempted to breach the borders separating Ceuta and Melilla from Morocco.

But Sanchez also emphasized the close ties between Morocco and Spain.

"Morocco cannot forget something fundamental: within the European Union it has no better partner than Spain when it comes to defending strategic interests crucial for Morocco and very necessary for the EU," Sanchez told reporters after a European Council meeting.

The crisis began 10 days ago when Morocco, angered by the hospitalisation of Western Saharan independence leader Brahim Ghali in Spain, loosened controls at its borders with Ceuta and Melilla, triggering a humanitarian crisis.

Spain has sent the vast majority of the 8,500 migrants who crossed en masse back to Morocco, but some 800 hundred unaccompanied minors remain in Ceuta, causing a logistical and ethical headache for the stretched local authorities.

(Reporting by Nathan Allen, Inti Landauro, Belen Carreno, Emma Pinedo and Clara-Laeila Laudette in Madrid; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Angus MacSwan)

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