The dramatic arrival of thousands of irregular migrants from Morocco on Spanish shores has put the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on high alert. The Socialist Party (PSOE) leader canceled a trip to Paris on Tuesday and flew down to Ceuta, after having stated earlier in the day that “territorial integrity” would be defended after more than 7,000 people swam to the North African Spanish city from Morocco between Monday and Tuesday.
Speaking today at a news conference in La Moncloa prime ministerial palace, Sánchez opened the door to using any means necessary to guarantee the security of the country’s borders, as well as promising that the integrity of Spain’s territory was not at risk.
Sánchez did not play down the severity of what he described as an “unheard of” crisis in Ceuta, and which also affected Spain’s other North African city of Melilla, albeit to a much lesser extent. But he did refrain from directly attacking Morocco, instead calling for the country to resolve the crisis like good neighbors “out of respect for territorial integrity.”
“The territorial integrity of the borders of Ceuta and Melilla,” he said, “which are also EU borders, will be defended at all moments by the Spanish government, under any circumstance and with all of the necessary measures.” His tone suggested that this was a much more serious incident than the many immigration crises that Spain has had to deal with over recent years.
Thousands of people began to illegally arrive in Ceuta on Monday, swimming from the neighboring city of Fnideq, which is on the border of the breakwater that demarks the exclave city from Morocco. Other migrants used rudimentary swimming boards to make it to Spain from the Moroccan city, also known as Castillejos, and which is home to around 7,000 people.
The migrants entered via Tarajal beach and the area of Benzú. One person died in the crossing. Moroccan authorities made no effort to stop the wave of arrivals and the Moroccan government remained silent on the issue on Monday.
The situation in North Africa comes after weeks of rising tensions between Morocco and Spain. The diplomatic row began in April when Moroccan intelligence services found out that Brahim Gali, the 73-year-old founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Río de Oro (Polisario Front), had been admitted under a false name to a hospital in the Spanish city of Logroño when he was suffering from Covid-19. The Polisario Front is a liberation movement by the Sahrawi people and is outlawed in the parts of Western Sahara under Moroccan control.
Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska defended the move, requested by Algeria, “for strictly humanitarian reasons.” The Moroccan Foreign Affairs Ministry, however, lambasted the decision, calling it an affront to the spirit of “association and good neighborliness,” and threatened Spain with reprisals.
Speaking on the state broadcaster TVE on Tuesday morning, Grande-Marlaska said that the migrants “are people who entered Spain illegally. We must prevent or else return these people due to their illegal entry.”
The Spanish government was on Tuesday unwilling to publicly speak about the causes of the crisis, and refused to link Morocco’s actions to the situation involving Brahim Gali. But the fact that this key ally, to which Sánchez has paid special attention, is allowing thousands of young men and adolescents to swim into Ceuta has the executive deeply concerned.
Since Monday, Sánchez has been engaging in all kinds of diplomatic maneuvers to pressure Morocco and convince them to stem the wave of immigrants that were surrounding the border fence in Ceuta on Tuesday and threatening to breach it at any moment. The prime minister also spoke to the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, as well as the European Council president, Charles Michel.
The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, voiced her “solidarity” with Spain on Tuesday in a message posted on Twitter. “Europe expresses its solidarity with Ceuta and Spain,” she wrote. “We need common European solutions to manage migration.”
Sánchez also spoke with the Spanish king, Felipe VI, and with opposition Popular Party (PP) leader Pablo Casado, a reflection of the severity of the crisis. Via a statement from the PP, Casado adopted a measured tone and avoided criticizing Sánchez directly for the chain of events. The PP called on the prime minister to normalize the situation and guarantee territorial integrity. The conservative party is in power in Ceuta, and its premier, Juan Jesús Vivas, is in permanent contact with Casado and has also spoken to Sánchez.
There is particular concern in La Moncloa over the actions of the far-right Vox party, which is the third-largest group in the Congress of Deputies and has also made great gains in recent years in regional and local administrations. The group is using the images of the migrants to share messages speaking about an “invasion” and accompanied by other xenophobic claims.
In response, government spokesperson María Jesús Montero said that the executive “wants to convey a clear and resounding message against xenophobic messages that criminalize immigrants. The last thing we need to do is fan flames of hate and fear. We are calling for responsible behavior.”
For his part, Grande-Marlaska explained on Tuesday that Spain is rapidly moving to return some of the immigrants who entered Ceuta, but the situation was far from under control and the images that were being broadcast on Spanish television on Monday and Tuesday had the Cabinet very concerned.
Sources from the Spanish government – a coalition of the PSOE and junior partner Unidas Podemos – explained on Tuesday that Morocco is going through a very difficult economic situation due to the pandemic, something that has prompted more migrant arrivals from the country in the Canary Islands in recent months, for example. But this latest crisis in Ceuta – which has a population of just under 85,000 people – was completely unexpected.
Before the founder of the Podemos party, Pablo Iglesias, left his role as deputy prime minister – subsequently leaving politics altogether – the left-wing politician had called for a referendum on the issue of Western Sahara. These words did not go down well in Morocco, but the situation was soon smoothed over by a different approach from the PSOE members of the coalition government.
Links to Gaza
However, the situation soon spun out of control once the country took the decision to take in the leader of the Polisario Front. That said, the imbalance between a humanitarian decision to treat someone who was sick and allowing thousands of youngsters to risk their lives at sea is also of great concern to the Spanish government, which on Tuesday was opting to avoid publicly linking the two incidents.
The ongoing crisis in Gaza could also have had an effect, government sources said, because the decision by Morocco to establish relations with Israel in exchange for the United States recognizing the former’s sovereignty over Western Sahara is controversial at home at a time when Israel is bombing the Gaza Strip – something that is causing anger among the Moroccan population.
Whatever the case, the strongest hypothesis as to why this has happened is linked to Brahim Gali. On Tuesday, the Spanish government was trusting that international pressure, in particular from the EU, would see Morocco shift course. But if not, Sánchez made clear that he would do whatever is needed to protect the border.
English version by Simon Hunter.
Texas anti-abortion law shows ‘terrifying’ fragility of women’s rights, say activists | Global development
The new anti-abortion law in Texas is a “terrifying” reminder of the fragility of hard-won rights, pro-choice activists have said, as they warn of a “more aggressive, much better organised [and] better funded” global opposition movement.
Pro-choice campaigners have seen several victories in recent years, including in Ireland, Argentina and, most recently, Mexico, where the supreme court ruled last week that criminalising abortion was unconstitutional. Another is hoped for later this month when the tiny enclave of San Marino, landlocked within Italy, holds a highly charged referendum.
But Texas’s law, which bans abortions after about six weeks, once embryonic cardiac activity is detected, and does not make exceptions for incest or rape, has sent shock waves around the world, making pro-choice activists realise they can take nothing for granted.
Sarah Shaw, head of advocacy at MSI Reproductive Choices, said: “Even though we have seen little gains here and there, in some places, we can never, ever be complacent because we’re only ever really hanging on to these rights by the skin of our teeth.”
She said the Texas law was “really terrifying” because of the emboldening message it sent to other anti-choice governments and organisations, with the fact it had happened in the US giving it “a huge weight and legitimacy”.
“This is all happening in the context of a rising, much more aggressive, much better organised, better funded and much more legitimised opposition movement than we’ve ever seen before,” Shaw said.
Pro-choice campaigners say they have faced increasingly vocal opposition from organisations that started on the US religious right but have spread to other countries, such as 40 Days for Life, a group that distributes graphic and misleading leaflets to women outside UK abortion clinics.
Heartbeat International, a conservative US Christian federation, funds and coordinates a network of anti-abortion “pregnancy resource” centres, many of them in sub-Saharan Africa, to provide women with what it calls “true reproductive help”.
“It’s a transnational movement now,” said Shaw. “What we’re seeing is them [US organisations] exporting their playbooks and their money overseas.”
Attacks on abortion rights usually happen in countries where other human rights are under threat, according to analysts. Last year, more than 30 countries, many of them led by authoritarian strongmen or rightwing populists, including Belarus, Uganda, Hungary, Egypt and Donald Trump’s US administration, signed a non-binding anti-abortion document known as the Geneva consensus declaration. The text was also seen as being anti-LGBTQ, as most of the signatories had not legalised same-sex marriage and several prosecute their LGBTQ+ citizens.
Among the signatories was Poland, which is one of only three countries to have significantly rolled back abortion rights since 2000, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The other two are Nicaragua and the US.
In October last year, Poland’s constitutional tribunal ruled that terminations due to foetal defects were unconstitutional. Three months later, a near-total ban on abortions was imposed. Abortion is now only legal in the case of rape, incest or a threat to the mother’s health.
Meanwhile, human rights observers have said that a Nicaraguan law punishing abortion without any exceptions, passed in 2006, has simply forced women to seek unsafe backstreet terminations.
Marge Berer, coordinator of the International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion, said setbacks were all too common, with breakthrough moments often followed by backlashes.
“My experience of this is one step forward, two steps forward, or one step back, 10 steps back,” she said. “And much of it, if not all of it, depends on who is the head of the government of the day.”
Berer, who has been involved in the pro-choice movement for almost 40 years, said the overall picture was brighter than it had been then: fewer deaths from unsafe abortions, and many more countries where terminations are legal.
But, she added, she was not hugely optimistic about the future. “There’s so much misogyny in the world. And I don’t know how anybody is going to make that go away,” she said. “For me, that’s the real problem. It’s that when misogyny takes over on a policy level, it’s very nasty.”
However, there is more hope among activists in Latin America, where the marea verde, or green wave, has swept through first Argentina and, last week, Mexico, where the supreme court struck down a state law that imposed prison terms for having an abortion. While it did not automatically legalise abortion, the decision is thought to set a binding precedent for the country’s judges.
Eugenia López Uribe, regional director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, said the legal change was the result of “40 years of hard work” by campaigners, with mass demonstrations, backroom lobbying and “a mainstreaming” of women’s rights in public discourse.
She said the ability of the Catholic church to tell people what to do when it came to abortion and contraception had been greatly reduced. “What we know from different surveys … is that in reality Catholics … feel that this is a private decision that you have to do with your own conscience.”
As women in Texas bear the brunt of the law brought in by the governor, Greg Abbott, their Mexican allies across the border were planning to take the fight north, she added.
“The ‘green wave’ hasn’t reached the United States so this is a very good opportunity for [it] to cross the border of the Rio Grande and go to the United States. We can make it go even further. We’ve been used to thinking about it in Latin America. Now is the time for North America.”
France attacks US over ‘stab in back’ submarine deal
France has called a US deal to develop nuclear-powered submarine technology with Australia and the UK, but not any EU countries, unveiled Thursday, a “stab in the back,” in the words of French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. The move is to see France lose out on a multibillion-euro submarine-technology deal with Australia. “This is not over. We’re going to need clarifications. We have contracts,” Le Drian added.
‘A forgotten disaster’: earthquake-hit Haitians left to fend for themselves | Global development
David Nazaire, a 45-year-old coffee farmer from Beaumont, a small village in rural southern Haiti, was getting ready to harvest when an earthquake struck his home and livelihood. Much of the farming infrastructure – as well as nearby homes, schools and churches – was damaged or completely destroyed. A month later, he and thousands of rural Haitians – those most severely affected by the tremor – are still waiting for relief, and are not expecting it to arrive soon.
“The earthquake didn’t destroy our crops, but it did take everything else,” Nazaire says, outside a neighbour’s house, now a pile of rubble beneath plastic roof tiles supported by the remnants of concrete walls. “We were just getting ready to harvest, but that’s lost now.”
The 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck southern Haiti on 14 August killed more than 2,200 and left 30,000 homeless. But while foreign aid and builders have been trickling into urban centres such as Les Cayes, the capital of Sud province, and other quake-struck areas, many rural Haitians see an all too familiar abandonment.
“Haiti has always been divided between an urban professional class and the ignored rural communities,” says Estève Ustache, 58, a researcher on rural development attached to a Methodist church outside Jeremie, another quake-struck town. “You have to ask yourself, why do leaders and aid workers only travel to these rural areas in a helicopter? Because they know it would be nearly impossible to go otherwise.”
Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, where nearly half of the 11.4m population is food insecure. But the poverty in which rural Haitians – who make up two-thirds of the population – live is startling, even by the country’s own abject standards.
The drive to Tricon, a rural hamlet just a few miles from Les Cayes – the regional capital – takes more than an hour. The road has never been paved and heavy rains can leave it impassable. Communities live in shacks built partly from material scavenged in the city. The phone signal is unreliable, and aside from a handful of community-built wells, there is no water supply.
“Everything we have, we built ourselves,” says Moise Magaly, 49, who was tending to her bean crops when the earth beneath her began thrashing, throwing her to the ground and making her arm “go crack”.
Most in the community are gaunt, after a dry spell that led to crops of cassava, beans and corn failing to yield their usual harvest. Vetiver, a cash crop often used to combat soil erosion, has been over-farmed in the area, further damaging the land.
Magaly’s house was damaged in the earthquake, knocking out the walls but leaving the roof standing on top of wooden struts. Like almost everyone else in southern Haiti, the fear of aftershocks and another quake has kept her sleeping outside, vulnerable to the Atlantic hurricane season.
“I don’t know why no one comes for us,” Magaly says, clutching at her arm. “We’ve contacted the media and our representatives but we’ve heard nothing.”
Aid has arrived in the country, with the US delivering more than 60 tonnes of aid to quake-hit regions, while Britain has pledged £1m of support, including shelter kits and solar-powered lanterns.
But some working on the relief effort worry that as international compassion wanes, so too will the funds from donors.
“It’s a very poor area, where people don’t have the resources or the funds for materials to build their houses well,” says Kit Miyamoto, a structural engineer who runs a firm and foundation that works in Haiti and around the world to improve earthquake preparedness. “And this is a forgotten disaster because it happens out of the eyes of the world, which means there will be less funding.”
Miyamoto adds that rural homes, churches and schools were more affected than those in cities because many of them were built before 2010, when improved building codes were adopted nationwide after a catastrophic earthquake struck the capital Port-au-Prince, killing more than 200,000.
“Construction is different now, and people are more conscious of how to build in a way that does the little things right, and makes the difference,” Miyamoto says.
But despite growing awareness of resilient construction techniques, the relief effort remains hampered by the sheer isolation of the most affected communities, and some are giving up hope.
“No one has been here since the earthquake. Just like before, the only time we see an outsider round here is when they want our votes,” says Altema Jean Joseph, a 52-year-old farmer who grows vetiver, an ingredient used in expensive perfumes which, despite costing $25,000 (£18,000) a barrel, makes farmers only $4 a week. “So why would we expect them here? We’ll have to build back ourselves.”
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