“Finally!” cheers Reda, a 20-year-old Moroccan who has just arrived at the port of Algeciras in southern Spain on Wednesday, on the first day of the Spanish operation “Passage du Strait”, which marks the recurring summer. in the country of the Moroccan diaspora.
Like him, millions of Moroccans in Europe have been waiting for three years to take the “route du bled” 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 drove with his friend a week ago and crossed Europe diagonally over almost 4,500 kilometers to join his family in Agadir, in the southwestern part of Morocco.
With more than 3.3 million passengers and more than 760,000 vehicles in the summer of 2019, the operation “crossing the strait” or “Marhaba” (“Welcome” in Arabic) is “one of the most intercontinental” in 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, with shoes on her feet and bob screwed on her head. Getting down in the car, “it’s almost a tradition for us”.
In the large port complex Algeciras, Reda is only 14 km from the port of Tangier, 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 went smoothly.
“The reception went very well. We were checked but I think it’s good for everyone’s safety. I’m in a hurry to start my holiday though,” Omar told AFP as he got 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.
– The relief after the anger –
However, this return to normalcy is by no means obvious.
Maritime relations between Spain and Morocco were not resumed until mid-April, while Rabat had reopened its ports to other European countries by the summer of 2021.
The border between the two countries had been closed in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the closure was then extended by the diplomatic crisis that arose in May 2021 over Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, of which Morocco controls about 80%, but which is also asserted by the Sahrawi separatists from the Polisario Front.
The crisis ended in March, when Madrid in a reverse face gave its support to Morocco’s autonomy plan.
“It’s a shame (…) With these disputes between politicians, those who pay the bill are the people,” indignant Abdel Ghani, 67, a pensioner of dual Spanish and Moroccan nationality who came to buy a ticket.
“You can not close the border when millions of people want to cross,” comments Reda, who says his parents “went crazy” last summer after Spain was banned from maritime relations with Morocco.
– EUR 500 million lost –
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, Almería and Algeciras, but also in the ports of Sète and Marseille in southern France and Genoa in Italy.
But “unfortunately, the money lost” during the more than two years of closure “can not be recovered”, laments Manuel Piedra, chairman of the Association of Service Companies in Algeciras Bay (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 back in time: “it reminds me of my childhood, I traveled by car every summer”. “It’s just amazing”!