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05MADRID3540 2005-10-06 16:00:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Madrid
Cable title:  

SPAIN: MIGRANT ASSAULT CRISIS CHALLENGES ZAPATERO

Tags:   PREL PGOV PHUM MO SP 
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1. (C) Summary. After weeks of increasingly brazen and
dangerous incursions by illegal immigrants into the Spanish
North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, the Zapatero
administration launched a high-profile effort to stem the
flood of sub-Saharan immigrants into the two cities.
Zapatero faced growing criticism by the opposition Popular
Party that he was failing to enforce border security and was
not exerting enough pressure on the Moroccan government to
help cut the flow of migrants. The government has gradually
escalated its response, ordering additional troops to the
enclaves to improve border security and authorizing the
construction of an additional barrier to supplant the two
fences that have failed to block hundreds of migrants from
entering over the last several weeks. On October 5, FM
Moratinos announced that Spain would activate a long-standing
agreement with Morocco to accept the return of migrants,
including non-Moroccan citizens that cross into the enclaves;
the first group of migrants were scheduled to be transfered
to Moroccan custody on October 6 but the move did not take
place. Zapatero dispatched Vice President Maria Teresa
Fernandez de la Vega to Ceuta and Melilla to observe
developments. Zapatero resisted early calls for him to go to
the enclaves as well, but now indicates that he may go. The
Spanish government is trapped between its desire to improve
relations with Morocco and concern that the migration crisis
will open Zapatero to criticism by Spanish nationalists that
he has been too "soft" on Morocco. End Summary.

//A CRISIS BUILDS...//



2. (U) Migrants have attempted twelve mass incursions into
Ceuta and Melilla since August 28, with five incidents since
September 27 involving 500 or more migrants. Melilla has
borne the brunt of the incursions, though the most deadly
incident took place on September 29 in Ceuta, where as many
as five migrants are believed to have died and over 100
suffered injuries when 700 individuals attempted to breach
the border. The border incursions have become increasingly
dangerous as migrants have begun to attack Spanish police
officials with stones and other weapons in order to avoid
capture. An additional 500 migrants attempted to cross into
Melilla on October 6 and there were initial indications that
six migrants may have died in that incident. In all, 6,000
persons have attempted to enter Ceuta and Melilla since
August 28, at least 721 have managed to enter the enclaves,
eight migrants have died, and 307 migrants and 19 Spanish
security officials have been injured.

//INITIAL RESPONSE FAILS//



3. (U) The Spanish media devoted considerable coverage to the
incursions, leading the Zapatero government to respond with
high-profile, but limited steps to stem the flow of migrants.
These included the dispatch of three military units to shore
up security along the fenceline between Melilla and Morocco
and the construction of a third barrier along that border.
However, some soldiers complained that their strict rules of
engagement essentially prevented them from presenting much
more than a psychological deterrent to desperate refugees
determined to reach their objective. An October 3 crossing
by 740 migrants was among the most violent yet, with seven
Spanish security officials injured in the melee.

//STONGER STEPS ENACTED//



4. (U) The use of violence by the migrants and the failure of
the increased military presence to halt the incursions
prompted the Zapatero government to adopt additional measures
on October 5. FM Moratinos announced that Spain would
activate provisions of a 1992 agreement with Morocco that
allow for the expedited return of migrants from Spanish
territory to Morocco. The first group of migrants was
scheduled to be transported from Melilla to Morocco on
October 6, but the transfer was delayed. Vice President
Fernandez de la Vega, dispatched to the enclaves by President
Zapatero, asserted that the agreement with Morocco did not
contravene Spanish immigration laws requiring a full case
study for each deportee. Spanish affiliates of NGOs "Doctors
Without Borders" and "SOS Racism" argued against
implementation of the agreement with Morocco, claiming that
over 40 percent of migrants suffered abuse at the hands of
Moroccan authorities. The Spain representative of the UN
High Commissioner for Refugees, Carlos Boggio, joined the
NGOs, criticizing the Spanish government for returning the
migrants to Morocco "because human rights are violated (in
that country)."

//TAMING NATIONALIST RUMBLINGS//



5. (U) Against the backdrop of the migration crisis, Zapatero
has faced opposition criticism that he has not pressed the
Moroccan government hard enough or demanded greater
cooperation to restrain the flood of migrants into Ceuta and
Melilla. The incursions were particularly inopportune for
the Spanish government, spiking even as the leaders and
cabinets of both countries were meeting in Sevilla for their
bilateral High Level Summit. Zapatero avoided public
statements on the issue during the Summit, earning further
criticism from political opponents and the municipal leaders
of Ceuta and Melilla (which are governed by the opposition
Popular Party) that he was ceding to Moroccan designs to gain
control of the two enclaves. He felt sufficient pressure to
declare publicly on October 6 that Spanish sovereignty over
the enclaves was "not at issue" and said he would visit both
Ceuta and Melilla, though he did not set a date. Zapatero
emphasized Spain's openess to controlled migration, but noted
that the yawning "prosperity gap" between Spain and Morocco
meant that illegal migration would remain a problem. He also
called on the EU to send a commission to study the problem,
since Ceuta and Melilla effectively represent the EU's border
with North Africa, and urged a reinvigoration of the
Barcelona Process.

//COMMENT//



6. (C) Improved relations with Morocco remain one of
Zapatero's top foreign policy priorities. However,
skepticism of Moroccan intentions runs deep across Spain's
political spectrum, in large part because of the Western
Sahara issue but also because of nationalist sentiment in
favor of continued control over Ceuta and Melilla. In this
context, Zapatero finds himself working against popular
sentiment in order to solidify a strategic partnership with
Rabat. The migration crisis has complicated this effort, but
thus far the Zapatero government seems committed to managing
both domestic requirements and its relations with Morocco.
AGUIRRE