After Western Sahara, Covid-19 triggers a new quarrel between Rabat and Madrid

Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares in Riga, Latvia, 1 December 2021.

Morocco’s deliberate choice to repatriate some of its citizens stranded in Europe due to Covid-19 via Portugal instead of Spain triggered a new diplomatic arms pass between Rabat and Madrid on Tuesday 21 December.

On December 13, the Moroccan government approved “exceptionally” Moroccans living abroad to return to their country from Portugal, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, an operation to be completed on 23 December. On Monday evening, the Ministry of Health stated that it had decided to organize repatriation flights from Portugal – and not from Spain – due to “lack of respect for health protocols” by the Spanish authorities.

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“This Decision is explained by the absence of tangible guarantees regarding compliance with the measures already taken, including verification of the vaccination card and the health status of passengers, according to a firm, appropriate approach and in accordance with the recommendations and internationally recognized rules.”explained the Moroccan Ministry. “The competent Spanish authorities are far from ensuring strict action to check the health of passengers when boarding airports”he accused, believing that this situation represents “a danger to the health of Moroccan citizens”. According to the ministry, many cases of Covid-19 infection have been detected in people arriving from Spain via private planes, either on arrival or during transit.

According to Spanish online media El Confidential, Well-informed about these issues, Madrid responded by summoning the Moroccan prosecutor, Farid Aoulouhaj, on Tuesday. The contact of AFP declined the Spanish Foreign Ministry to comment.

New infections increased by 50% in one week

But during a press conference on Tuesday, the head of diplomacy strongly condemned the Moroccan statement. “The public opinion is not acceptable from Spain’s point of view because it does not correspond to any realityresponded José Manuel Albares. Spain meets all the international criteria in the fight against Covid, the government is working tirelessly on it. “It is not acceptable and it is not based on any objective reality. That is what I want to tell Morocco.”continued Mr. Albares, adding it “Spain’s interests will always be defended”.

The Minister clarified that he had not been informed of the Moroccan press release prior to its publication and assured that Spain is working “with all his good will” to maintain “The best relations with Morocco”.

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In May, a major crisis soured relations between Rabat and Madrid following hospitalization in Spain “humanitarian causes”by the leader of the Sahrawi separatists from the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali, considered by Morocco to be a “war criminal”. At the heart of the conflict – which continues – is the issue of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony that has pitted Morocco against the Polisario Front for decades, backed by Algeria. Morocco’s ambassador to Spain, Karima Benyaich, has thus still not returned to his post in Madrid.

Thousands of Moroccans have been stranded abroad following the authorities’ decision to extend the suspension of passenger flights to and from Morocco until at least 31 December due to the spread of the Omicron variant and the resurgence of the pandemic in Europe. According to the Ministry of Health, the number of new infections has increased by 50% in one week, although the death toll and serious or critical cases remain stable. “The risk of a resumption of the epidemic is very likely”warned the ministry on Tuesday.

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The world with AFP

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