Migrants embark on a challenging journey by sea to Ceuta, Spain, facing harsh weather conditions


Thousands of migrants from Morocco crossed the border to Ceuta, the Spanish enclave in North Africa, on May 17.

The increase in the number of migrants came amid diplomatic tensions between Spain and Morocco, with some officials accusing the latter of deliberately relaxing border controls. While some migrants took land or sea routes from cities bordering Ceuta, others took the opportunity to leave in boats from the beaches of Tangier. Our observer Sedrick Kouayi tells.

Videos show an unprecedented influx of migrants entering Ceuta, either by swimming or climbing border fences. May 17 represents a record number of migrants entering the city in one day, with an estimated over 8,000. At least 1,500 of Monday’s arrivals were believed to be minors.

‼ ️ Caos en los pasos marítimos de Benzú y el Tarajal.

Las entradas in Ceuta ya se cuentan por cientos and según FCSE son more than 1,000 marroquíes with a free español.

«Estamos desbordados en otro lado esperan 1,000 more than a stage and a las próximas horas». pic.twitter.com/0vhOvBlYTC

– Rubén Pulido (@rubnpulido) May 17, 2021 Thousands of migrants entered Ceuta by swimming around the border fence at Tarajal beach.

Others chose to make the journey by sea from the port city of Tangier, located just 14 km from mainland Spain and about 40 km from Ceuta.

‘Some videos started circulating showing that there was no military security on the beaches’

Our observer, Sedrick Kouayi, who works with the NGO Humanism Without Borders, witnessed several embarkations from Achakar beach in Tangier, despite challenging weather conditions:

On Sunday morning, May 16, some videos began circulating showing that there was no military security on the beaches to prevent migrants from crossing. Information gained momentum and people started moving to Achakar beach, in Tangier. On Monday, May 17, when we woke up, we noticed that many people were on their way to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta.

The observer team received several videos of these departures from the shores of Tangier.

“Tangier is open!” More photos appear of migrants hoping to cross the Strait of Gibraltar on thin inflatable boats. Moroccan border agents have left places normally heavily controlled # Morocco is opening all its borders More than 2,700 arrived in Ceuta today # boza # Spain pic.twitter.com/4R7x88jfJM

– Bruno Boelpaep (@BrunoBoelpaep) May 17, 2021 After news of reduced security at Morocco’s borders, migrants left in boats from the beaches of Tangier. ‘They were desperate but not afraid’

Kouayi explains:

The situation on the beach was tragic. I could see with my own eyes the difficulties people on the beach had in leaving. The weather was very rough with high waves. Families sunbathing and swimming on the beach, and on the other side, migrants of sub-Saharan descent attempted to leave by sea. Some of them helped the ailing migrants.

Most of the migrants who went to the beach had inflatable boats. Some people wore life jackets and others wore automotive inner tubes. People were excited to get on board; they were desperate but not afraid.

Kouayi said these groups of migrants chose not to take the usual route from Tangier to mainland Spain due to bad weather. However, they took the opportunity provided by the lack of security personnel to depart by boat for Ceuta.

Kouayi does not know whether these groups of migrants ever made it to Ceuta.

The météo à Tanger n’aide pas les migrants subsahariens pour réussir la traversée. pic.twitter.com/fssvTu9eHi

– Ali Zoubeidi (@DrAZoubeidi) May 17, 2021 Taking advantage of a lack of security personnel, migrants left the coasts of Tangier despite choppy seas. According to Sedrick Kouayi, fewer migrants travel by sea due to bad weather conditions.

According to Kouayi, the idea for this massive rush to Ceuta has started to spread on social media in recent weeks:

Since the start of the holy month of Ramadan in 2021, migrants have been talking about a possible opening of borders by Morocco. Voices have been shared in WhatsApp and Facebook messenger groups, which have motivated some people living in non-border towns to go to the border towns.

Normally it is impossible to get on a boat on such an open beach in broad daylight without being noticed by the security guards, but to my surprise there were none. The only officers on the beach were rescue workers helping one or two people about to drown.

The relaxation of Moroccan border security came amid mounting diplomatic tensions between Spain and Morocco. In mid-April, Spain granted access to Brahim Ghali, the head of the Polisario Front, a militant group fighting Morocco to gain independence for the disputed territory of Western Sahara. Ghali is being treated for Covid-19 in Northern Spain.

Spanish troops are deployed to control the influx

On Tuesday, May 18, Spanish troops were sent to Ceuta to stem the influx of migrants. Armored vehicles lined the beach as police and army continued to confront a crowd of hundreds of migrants over the fence.

📹 Esta es la situación actual and Ceuta:

Miles de inmigrantes agolpados en la frontera que amenazan con acceder a la ciudad.

Several local places, marroquíes and subsaharianos continue desplazándose tanto a Ceuta como a Melilla con la idea de orquestar un asalto masivo. pic.twitter.com/FEUVTuoRQ7

– Rubén Pulido (@rubnpulido) May 18, 2021 After several thousand migrants entered Ceuta, Spanish troops were sent to the enclave. Police and army were opposite the border fence.

Videos posted on social networks show hundreds of people on the streets of Ceuta, including lines of migrants waiting at the Red Cross to be registered with the authorities. Others tried to board ships destined for the Spanish mainland.

لما يردد هؤلاء القاصرين المغاربة بمدينة سبتة “عاشت إسبانيا” فقد فقدت الحكومة المغربية شرعيتها و وجب الإطاحة بها و الإطاحة برؤوس كبيرة في وزارة الداخلية و الخارجية و … # المغربي_روحه_ماشي_رخيصة pic.twitter.com/zbtNm8MIIP

– Sabah صباح ❤️🇪🇦🇲🇦🌍 (@ sabah_0106) May 17, 2021 Groups arriving in Ceuta gathered at the Red Cross to register and receive assistance.

One of the last outposts for migrants from all over Africa hoping to reach the European continent, Morocco is a major player in Europe’s fight against irregular migration. The country claims to have prevented more than 70,000 “irregular migration” attempts in 2019.

The two Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the African continent are the main destinations for migrants seeking to reach Europe.

According to the Associated Press, nearly half of the migrants who reached Ceuta have been expelled from the European enclave following military deployment at the border. However, the more than 1,500 minors who managed to reach Ceuta are legally allowed to remain within Spanish borders.