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” Finally ! “, cheers Reda, a 20-year-old Moroccan who has just arrived at the port of Algeciras, in southern Spain, on Wednesday 15 June, on the first day of the Spanish operation “Passage du Strait”, which marks the summer’s return to land in the Moroccan diaspora. Like him, millions of Moroccans in Europe have been waiting three years to resume “the way to bleed” and return to Morocco this summer by car and ferry via Spain.
To this end, in mid-April, Rabat had to decide to restore maritime relations with Spain following the end of a serious diplomatic crisis that lasted almost a year between the two countries bordering the Strait of Gibraltar. “Last night I could not sleep, I was too excited”says Reda, a student in Helsinki, Finland, from where he left by car with his friend a week ago and crossed Europe diagonally for almost 4,500 kilometers to join his family in Agadir in southwestern Morocco.
With more than 3.3 million passengers and more than 760,000 vehicles in the summer of 2019, the “Strait Crossing” or “Marhaba” (“welcome” in Arabic) constitutes the operation “one of the largest flows of people between continents” over such a short period of time according to the Spanish government. “These are the only two summers (2020 and 2021) in my life that I have not spent in Morocco”, emphasizes Reda, step dancing on her feet and a bob screwed on her head. get off in car, “It’s almost a tradition for us. »
“It’s the people who pay the bill”
In the large port complex Algeciras, Reda is only 14 km from the port of Tangier in Morocco. Wednesday we started to see a couple of cars loaded up on the roof and families looking for a shady place to eat in front of impressive red ferries.
On the other side of the strait, in the port of Tanger-Ville, the arrival goes smoothly.
“The reception went really well. We were checked, but I think it’s good for everyone’s safety. I’m in a hurry to start my holiday.”confides in AFP Omar getting off the ferry Maria Dolores, departing from Tarifa, another Spanish port. However, it was not yet the spectators, this is expected at the end of the month and the first weekend in July.
However, this return to normalcy is by no means obvious. Maritime relations between Spain and Morocco were only resumed in mid-April, while Rabat had reopened its ports to other European countries from the summer of 2021.
The border between the two countries had been closed in March 2020 due to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, and the closure was then extended by the diplomatic crisis that arose in May 2021 over Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony including Morocco. controls about 80% of the territory, but is also claimed by the Sahrawi separatists from the Polisario Front.
The crisis ended in March, when Madrid, who made a face, supported Morocco’s autonomy plan. “It’s a shame (…) With these quarrels between politicians, those who pay the bill are the people”indignant Abdel Ghani, 67, a pensioner of dual Spanish and Moroccan citizenship who came to buy a ticket.
“You can not close the border when millions of people want to cross”comments Reda, who claims his parents are “gone crazy” last summer following the exclusion of Spain from maritime relations with Morocco.
Losses estimated at 500 million euros
This summer, Spanish and Moroccan authorities expect even more travelers than in 2019, the last year before the pandemic.
Morocco launched its “Marhaba” operation on 5 June with agents stationed in the Spanish ports of Motril, Almeria and Algeciras, but also in the ports of Sète and Marseille in southern France and Genoa in Italy.
But “unfortunately lost money” during the more than two years of closure “can not be restored”apologizes to Manuel Piedra, President of the Association of Service Companies of the Bay of Algeciras (AESBA).
Direct and indirect losses amounted to almost 500 million euros, estimates AESBA, which represents 90 local companies, including several shipping companies.
While waiting for his ferry, Reda forgets politics, stares into space and travels in time: “It reminds me of my childhood, I traveled every summer by car. It’s just amazing! »