The land borders of Ceuta and Melilla with Morocco have opened at midnight this Tuesday in a first phase restricted to citizens of the European Union and with permission to circulate in Schengen territory within the gradual reopening agreed between the two countries to avoid incidents. Possible legal changes on visas, starting customs for merchandise and completing the improvement works on the fence are pending.

A total of 1,145 people and 305 vehicles have crossed the Tarajal border that separates Ceuta from Morocco during the early hours of this Tuesday. As reported by the Government Delegation in a statement, 827 people and 171 vehicles left the autonomous city for the neighboring country, while 318 travelers and 134 cars entered Spanish territory in the opposite direction.

This puts an end to two years and two months of closure of the border crossings of El Tarajal, in Ceuta, and Beni Enzar, in Melilla, since the health crisis broke out in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. These are two especially sensitive points due to the transit of porters and hundreds of Moroccans who regularly passed through the two Spanish cities.

At least these first few days, the image of crowds is to be avoided because the Ministry of the Interior has issued a border order agreed with Morocco that limits access until May 31 only to “citizens and residents of the European Union and those authorized to circulate in the Schengen area’.

The president of the Autonomous City of Melilla, Eduardo de Castro, has assured this Tuesday that the reopening of borders has been done with “totally normality”, although he has warned that Morocco “is not an easy neighbor” and that migratory pressure is to depend on the ‘reciprocity’ of the Moroccan country. In an interview on Radio Nacional, Eduardo de Castro has indicated that there has been “no problem” in the reopening and that it has been a “quiet” night without “great influx” after more than two years with the borders closed with the neighboring country .

As of May 31, a second phase will be opened in which “legally recognized cross-border workers” will be able to access. The data handled by the Ceuta authorities puts 141 workers included in this category who have the documentation in order, within a census that exceeded 2,400 until the border was closed by Covid, the vast majority were domestic employees.

The reopening occurs after Spain and Morocco agree on a sealed roadmap after the support of the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, for the Moroccan plan on the Sahara and with his trip to meet with Mohamed VI. The maritime border has already been reopened and preparations are being finalized to resume Operation Crossing the Strait (OPE).

Issues such as retaking the customs office in Melilla and opening one in Ceuta to regulate the transit of goods and combat smuggling, as well as possible legal changes to require visas as a condition of access, putting an end to exceptions with neighboring provinces, remain pending. Changes in the asylum law were also being considered.

The Government of Ceuta, chaired by Juan Vivas (PP), reiterated this week the need for the reopening to be “gradual and orderly” within a process in which they hope that the exception to the Schengen Treaty that allows residents in the bordering province of Tetuán to access the Spanish town without a visa.

Sources from the Ceuta Executive remarked this week to Europa Press that the “culmination of the normalization process” of border transit through Tarajal “must mean the establishment of commercial customs” that Pedro Sánchez hinted that it would open in Ceuta after his meeting with Mohamed VI in Rabat.

The perimeter fence of Ceuta and Melilla has undergone extensive remodeling to, among other things, remove the concertinas and place new anti-climbing structures such as inverted combs or rollers. Everything is part of the so-called “intelligent border” that the Interior wants to be fully operational this year and that includes the renovation of the security camera circuit.

The Government Delegation in Ceuta plans to conclude before June 1 the works that it is executing at the border crossing to, among other things, install retractable bollards in the lanes enabled for the passage of vehicles in order to avoid new attempts at kamikaze entries in the city.

Over the next month, the “intelligent border” tools and systems will be installed with which the crossing will be equipped to have reliable control of the people and cars that enter and leave the city from Morocco, as confirmed by the Government delegate, Salvadora Matthews.

The reopening of the land borders of the North African Spanish cities will take place a year after the entry of some 10,000 migrants in Ceuta in the face of the passivity of the Moroccan police, in the midst of a crisis with this country that was officially closed two months ago with the letter from the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, to King Mohamed VI supporting the autonomy plan for the Sahara.

In addition to the ministerial order, the Ministry of the Interior has ordered the reinforcement of police forces in both Ceuta and Melilla, mobilizing members of the Police Intervention Unit (UIP) for this purpose.