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Ceuta: Explainer: How did the migrant crisis in Spain’s city of Ceuta occur and what is going to happen now? | News

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The irregular entry of nearly 8,000 migrants from Morocco into the Spanish North African city of Ceuta on Monday and Tuesday has sparked an unprecedented migratory crisis on the border. Never before has such a large number of immigrants arrived in such a short time.

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Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, canceled a trip to Paris on Tuesday to travel to Ceuta and Spain’s other exclave city, Melilla, where 86 people managed to jump the border fence in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Of the 8,000 people who had arrived in Ceuta since Monday, either swimming or using makeshift flotation devices, nearly half have been sent back to Morocco, according to the Interior Ministry, which has not given more details about the expulsion procedures employed.

The unprecedented crisis in Ceuta has left many unanswered questions, ranging from the reasons why the Moroccan authorities let so many people breach the border – apparently a diplomatic punishment – to the way in which the thousands of people, including hundreds of minors, will now be taken care of.

What is happening in Ceuta? Rumors began to spread in Morocco on Sunday night that the local authorities were taking a lax attitude to border control. As a result, in the early hours of Monday morning hundreds of people approached the jetties that separate the North African country from the Spanish city to cross them by sea or on foot. The Moroccan gendarmerie displayed an “unusual passivity,” according to Spanish security forces.

By Tuesday afternoon, 8,000 immigrants had arrived in Ceuta, most of them Moroccan but also some sub-Saharans. Dozens continued to arrive throughout the day. Most were young men but there were also entire families and around 1,500 minors, some of whom were very young according to the Ceuta government.

What sparked the incident? The apparent motive was Spain’s decision to admit Brahim Gali, 73, into the country for medical treatment while he was suffering from Covid-19. Gali is the founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Río de Oro (Polisario Front), a liberation movement for the Sahrawi people that is outlawed in the parts of Western Sahara under Moroccan control. He was admitted under a false name to a hospital in the Spanish city of Logroño. This move angered Morocco. But compounding the situation was Donald Trump’s recognition in December of last year of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. This prompted Rabat to exercise unprecedented pressure on Spain and the European Union so that they “abandoned the comfort zone” of the United Nations over the disputed territory, in the words of Moroccan authorities, and they followed in Trump’s footsteps.

Migrants trying to reach Ceuta by sea on Tuesday.
Migrants trying to reach Ceuta by sea on Tuesday.Mohamed Siali / EL PAÍS

What has been the Spanish government’s position? The government has responded by trying to resolve the crisis, which has sparked widespread alarm within the executive – a coalition of the Socialist Party (PSOE) and junior partner Unidas Podemos. The prime minister held a press conference on Tuesday at which he spoke about the need to defend the “territorial integrity” of Spain. He stepped up the government’s diplomatic activity and in particular focused on the European Union in search of support. Sánchez deployed the army in Ceuta on Monday and made a series of calls on Tuesday, including to Spain’s King Felipe VI and the leader of the main opposition Popular Party (PP) Pablo Casado.

What is Morocco saying? The Moroccan government has kept quiet about what has happened. The only statement from one of the country’s officials so far came from its ambassador in Spain, Karima Benyaich, who said that there “are acts that have consequences and that have to be accepted” before she was recalled for consultations by Rabat.

What will happen to the migrants? The Interior Ministry is focusing on expelling as many as possible as quickly as possible. While Morocco permitted them to cross the border headed to Ceuta, it is also accepting the migrants back into its territory. On Monday and Tuesday, around 4,000 people were sent back to the North African country, according to Interior Ministry sources.

According to news agency Efe, as well as a number of police sources who have spoken to EL PAÍS, these expulsions were, in many cases, carried out without the proper formalities and on a collective basis. The lawyers association in Ceuta has confirmed that its attorneys were only mobilized at 2pm on Tuesday, despite the fact that the expulsions began on Monday. According to sources from the association, the lawyers were called to open cases related to the expulsions in accordance with the parts of the Immigration Law that relate to irregular entry into Spain and guarantee a minimum legal coverage.

The Interior Ministry, however, has until now refused to give details about the procedures being used to expel the migrants and has only clarified that they are “refusals at the border,” a euphemism for irregular expulsions or express deportations.

What will happen to the minors? They should not be returned to Morocco under Spanish law and their interests as minors should take precedence. Interior Ministry Fernando Grande-Marlaska stated on Tuesday that no youngsters had been sent back across the border. Police sources added that if any minor has returned to Morocco, it is because they requested to be let through.

With less than 19 square kilometers of territory, how will Ceuta cope? The Ceuta government and the central government’s delegation in the North African city has set up spaces to deal with the migrants – in particular the minors but also the adults that are still in the city. The approximately 1,500 minors who crossed the breakwater were in a warehouse in Tarajal on Tuesday afternoon. All shelters in the city are completely overwhelmed. Red Cross sources said that there were no figures for the number of people who were assisted on arrival – many of the migrants were exhausted after swimming ashore – nor how many people were sent to hospital. Many sources on the ground spoke about a situation of “mayhem.”

Has this situation ever been seen before? This is the first time that such a large number of migrants has crossed the Spanish borders in an irregular manner. Not even the crisis in the Canary Islands in 2006, nor during the summer of 2018, have so many people arrived all at once. The last record was seen in November 2020, when around 2,200 people came ashore in Arguineguín, in the Canary Islands, over the space of just two days.

With reporting by Francisco Peregil, Carlos E. Cué, Laura J. Varo and Guillermo Abril.

English version by Simon Hunter.



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‘Pelosi Republicans’: McCarthy Disses Cheney, Kinzinger Amid New Jan. 6 Committee Appointment

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US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) confirmed on Sunday that Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) has been appointed to serve on the US House-approved select committee probing the January 6 attack on the US Capitol building. This move comes days after Pelosi rejected two out of five GOP recommendations from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).

Though it appears the January 6 commission will move forward, the House Minority Leader did not appear to change the GOP stance on the matter when approached by reporters on Monday. 

“Some Republicans have been saying … that the GOP should play ball on this committee. You could get the three,” a reporter asked in reference to Reps. Rodney Davis (R-IL), Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) and Troy Nehls (R-TX).

All three lawmakers received Pelosi’s approval for appointment, but they were ultimately held back by McCarthy, who demanded the House Speaker also appoint Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Jim Banks (R-IN). Pelosi has asserted that Jordan and Banks would endanger the probe’s “integrity.”

McCarthy brushed the reporter’s suggestion aside, arguing that Cheney and Kinzinger are the only House Republicans who would “play ball” in an effort for the commission to have a bipartisan quorum.

“Who is that, Adam [Kinzinger] and Liz [Cheney]?” he floated. “Arent they kinda, like, Pelosi Republicans?” 

Moments later, the House Minority Leader informed reporters that he has not decided whether the two anti-Trump Republicans will be punished for joining the select committee amid the House GOP’s boycott of the group.

Word of McCarthy’s latest dig traveled fast to Cheney, who abruptly panned his remarks as “pretty childish.” 

“We’ve got very serious business here. We have important work to do,” she asserted to reporters on Monday.

Both Cheney and Kinzinger are slated to meet up with their Democratic colleagues for their first select committee meeting on Tuesday. The group’s first witness is also expected to make an appearance. 

Presently, Democrats on the 13-member group include Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), chairman of the select committee, Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Pete Aguilar (D-CA), Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Elaine Luria (D-VA). Kinzinger and Cheney are the sole GOP lawmakers assigned to the committee. 

McCarthy has maintained that Pelosi is pursuing a “sham process” by rejecting Jordan and Banks from the select committee. 


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REUTERS / Elizabeth Frantz

U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) announces the withdrawal of his nominees to serve on the special committee probing the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, as two of the Republican nominees, Reps’ Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Jim Banks (R-IN), standby during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 21, 2021

“Speaker Pelosi’s rejection of the Republican nominees to serve on the committee and self-appointment of members who share her preconceived narrative will not yield a serious investigation,” McCarthy wrote on Sunday, shortly after Pelosi announced Kinzinger’s appointment. “The Speaker has structured this select committee to satisfy her political objectives. She had months to work with Republicans on a reasonable and fair approach to get answers on the events and security failures surrounding January 6.” 

Republicans have also argued that the investigation should focus on why the US Capitol was not properly secured on January 6, despite reports claiming law enforcement had information leading up to the attack.

“The U.S. Capitol and the men and women who protect it suffered a massive leadership failure. We must make sure that never happens again,” the House Minority Leader noted on Sunday, claiming the GOP will carry out its own probe on the deadly riot.  



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How ‘super-detector’ dogs are helping free Iraq from the terror of Isis mines | Global development

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On the wide, flat plain of the Sinjar district of northern Iraq, Naif Khalaf Qassim lets his dog, an eight-year-old Belgian shepherd, range across the dry earth on a 30-metre leash until Branco stops and sits, tail wagging, looking towards his handler with enthusiasm.

Branco has detected something underground and, when the mine-clearing team is brought in to investigate, they find an improvised explosive device (IED), known locally as a VS500.

It is about 30cm (1ft) wide, with a plastic casing and a central pressure pad. The VS500 is not the name Islamic State give the device; no one knows that. All that is certain is that it is one of thousands produced when the terror group held sway over this part of Iraq and commandeered plastics factories in their Mosul base, forcing the workers to make souped-up versions of the Italian-made VS50 landmine.

A VS50 could fit on the palm of your hand, and contains about 100g of explosives. The deminers call this type of mine the VS500 because it is 10 times the size and packed with up to 15kg (33lb) of explosives. The pressure pad is sensitive enough for a child to activate, even through 30cm of packed earth. The explosion can take out an armoured vehicle.

Branco is trained to sniff ahead in a controlled manner and stop if he gets a scent – so he doesn’t tread on the mine. Belgian and German shepherds are used because they are most adept at distinguishing scents.

“I knew Branco would find the IED,” says Naif proudly. “I believe in him and his abilities; I know him and what he can do. He is more of a friend to me than a dog.”

Dog and handler between two stakes on arid ground
Branco, with his handler Naif Khalaf Qassim, can do rapid searches either side of a known mined corridor

Four years ago, Iraqi forces managed to take the last stronghold that Isis had left in the country, the city and surroundings of Tal Afar. The Iraqi flag was raised on the historic Ottoman citadel at the heart of the city, and the militia was pushed into Syria.

The war might have appeared over by late August 2017, but retreating Isis forces seeded the towns, villages and countryside in that area of Sinjar with IEDs, and the job of clearing them is still far from done.

But it is moving at a much faster pace, thanks to the introduction of the small sniffer dog team, including Branco, and his handler, Naif, 35.

Mine-detection dogs are not new – the British-based Mines Advisory Group (MAG) has been working across northern Iraq for three decades. In the year from June 2020 to June 2021 the Iraqi dog team has found and destroyed 3,540 landmines and explosive remnants of war, including 670 improvised mines and 148 other improvised devices.

Now MAG has embarked on a specific programme to better detect the explosives used by Isis and other non-state groups.

Land mine with pressure pad on top
Isis made workers at plastics factories in Mosul produce the so-called VS500, based on an Italian landmine

Dogs are usually trained to sniff out explosives, mainly TNT, but the IED dogs take this a step further. Trained in Bosnia-Herzegovina, their noses are attuned to rubber, metal and batteries as well.

This is key where explosives are often improvised from domestic items such as pots and kettles, with detonators and batteries. Training dogs to focus on a wider range of scents allows for more opportunities to detect anomalies below the surface.

The new four-strong dog team (with two more on their way from Bosnia-Herzegovina) is currently working on 8sq km of land near Tal Afar that was used as a barrier minefield by retreating Isis fighters in 2017. While people armed with mine detectors painstakingly scour a known mined corridor, the dogs range across the areas either side, deemed low or medium risk, to seek out any randomly planted devices.

Woman in uniform and dog searching burnt out cars.
Vian Khaider Khalaf, with X-Lang, wants to clear landmines so families can return and farm the land

The programme for the “super-detector” dogs was curtailed until now by Covid and by difficulties negotiating with the administration in Sinjar – divided between the Iraqi federal government and the Kurdistan regional government.

The dogs start work at 5am, so that they can finish before the sun is too high – last week temperatures there hit 49C (120F). The handlers are from the Yazidi community.

Vian Khaider Khalaf, 26, was a student before starting work with the dogs in 2017. She works to support her family in Sinuni, but like everyone on the team, her driving motivation is to clear the mines so that families can return to their farms.

Vian Khaider Khalaf says some of her family, as Yazidis, are still in camps for displaced people
Vian Khaider Khalaf says some of her family, as Yazidis, are still in camps for displaced people

“We always had dogs at home, as my family are farmers and shepherds,” says Khalaf. “I fled with my family in 2014 when Daesh [Isis] came. I still have family in an IDP [internally displaced people] camp in Kurdistan. My family are afraid for me, of course. But they are proud of me and see me working hard and bravely, and that makes me want to take on more challenges.”

Khalaf has worked with her dog, X-Lang, since she started with MAG. He was originally a mine-detector dog, but was selected for the IED upgrade training. She says: “The relationship between me and my dog is not really that of a human and an animal. He is my dear friend. If I could take him home with me at the weekend, or live on the base with him, I would.”

After their shifts out in the fields, handlers and dogs spend the rest of the day together, often around the pool on the base.

The team supervisor is Salam Rasho, a former noncommissioned officer with the Kurdistan military, the peshmerga. He is also a Yazidi and has seen the devastation of his community. “Our aim is to return the people to their land, to get people farming the land again,” he says.

It’s impossible to estimate how much unexploded ordnance there is in Iraq – one of the most mined countries in the world, according to some estimates. There is little information about where mines were laid over the past 40 years, from the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, to Saddam Hussein’s assaults on his own people, the Gulf War, and finally Isis. It is thought that in federal Iraq alone there are some 3,000 sq km of mined land yet to be cleared, with 8.5 million people living in close proximity.

Dogs in circular pool with rotator arm in middle
After a morning’s work the dogs can go into a custom-made pool that allows them to exercise in the heat

The real benefit of the dogs, says Salam, is that they can cover a huge area much quicker than humans – about 1,500 sq metres a day. The success of the Iraq deployment means that MAG is stepping up its IED dog training and even going to the next level – finessing the programme so that dogs can also be used to help clear booby-trapped homes.

Clearing Iraq of unexploded mines is a task that will take many more years, but at least now the land is being freed from the lingering grip of Isis at a faster pace than before thanks to Branco, X-Lang and the other dogs of war.

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Germany mulls restrictions for unvaccinated as cases soar

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The surge in Covid-19 cases due to the spread of the more contagious Delta variant has prompted a debate in Germany over whether people who have not yet been vaccinated should face restrictions – after other countries like France and Greece made similar moves.

“Vaccinated people will definitely have more freedoms than unvaccinated people,” chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun, said in an interview published on Sunday (25 July).

If infections continue to rise, unvaccinated people might be forbidden from entering restaurants, cinemas, theatres or sports stadiums because “the residual risk is too high,” he said.

Merkel has previously spoken out against making vaccination itself mandatory.

According to Braun, cases are increasing by 60-percent per week and are expected to continue rising.

“If the Delta variant were to continue to spread at this rate and we don’t counter it with a very high vaccination-rate or change in behaviour, we would have an incidence of 850 [cases per 100,000 inhabitants] in just nine weeks,” he said.

Braun argued that introducing further restrictions for unvaccinated people would be legal since “the state has the responsibility to protect the health of its citizens” – triggering a debate even within Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party.

The CDU candidate to succeed Merkel as chancellor in September’s national elections, Armin Laschet, has opposed such measures.

“I do not believe in compulsory vaccination, and I do not believe in indirectly putting pressure on people to get vaccinated,” he told ZDF television.

“We have had a rule that you must be tested, vaccinated or recovered and I think that is a good principle,” Laschet said.

For his part, the leader of the Social Democratic Party, Rolf Mützenich, warned that politicians are not going “to change the vaccination behaviour of individuals with threats”.

About 60 percent of Germany’s 83 million people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 jab, while just 48 percent are fully-vaccinated.

All jabs approved in the EU – BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson&Johnson – appeared to be effective against the Delta variant when both doses are administrated in the case of two-shot jabs.

Other countries like Italy, France, and Greece are trying to increase vaccination rates by imposing vaccine passport schemes or mandatory vaccination for certain workers, such as health and care staff.

Weekend protests

Those moves have sparked protests over the weekend.

Thousands gathered on Saturday in several French cities to speak out against the new Covid-19 restrictions for unvaccinated people and mandatory vaccination – with far-right activists and members of the ‘Yellow Vest’ movement clashing with police in Paris.

Similar rallies took place outside the Greek parliament in Athens for the third time this month, while large crowds took the streets in Dublin to protest against the introduction of vaccines passports.

As part of a so-called “Worldwide Rally for Freedom” campaign, protest against vaccine passports, wearing masks, and further lockdowns were organised in major cities across the world, including Sydney, London or Rome.

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