Friday, March 1

Spain resumes Operation Crossing the Strait, anticipating the reopening of borders


The new stage in relations with Morocco resurrects Operation Crossing the Strait, whose preparations are already in the minds of those responsible for Transport and the Interior on this side of the border. At the moment, “only at the sketch level”, they comment in one of the concerned ministries, but it is already one of the first consequences of the reactivation of diplomatic relations, which leads State Security sources to work with the forecast of a reopening of the borders of Ceuta and Melilla this spring.

However, it is also up to what Morocco says, which has not yet communicated anything about the Operation, warn the same sources. Be that as it may, the Remodeling works of the border corridor of El Tarajal, in Ceuta, which has suffered so many delays, now they have to speed up before the forecast of a lot of work in that key point of connection of Africa with Europe.

The contracting firm has already been warned. The Operation Crossing the Strait -OPE-, is the largest annual transit of foreigners through the peninsula, 3.3 million people and 760,215 vehicles counted in 2019.

expectation at the border

The announcement of a new stage in relations with Morocco has not come as a surprise to the Interior and other departments involved, where “an important gesture” had been expected for a month, points out one of the consulted sources, without specifying the content. The “gesture” – even at the cost of giving in to the tacit acceptance of a Moroccan nature of Western Sahara – has caused a great deal of expectation in Ceuta and Melilla due to the proximity of the reopening of the border after two years of closure, first by Morocco and then also by Spain, always attributed by Rabat and Madrid to the pandemic.

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Other forecasts also give an idea that something was expected with respect to Morocco. The Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda had already prepared, at least ten days before the Moroccan government’s announcement last Friday, a website of the Port Authority of the Bay of Algecrias and the port of that city of Cadiz for Operation Crossing the Strait 2022. The page is already navigable, but it is still in the casing, without operational information in its boxes .

All the sources consulted give the end of Ramadan, May 2, as the best date for the reopening of borders in Ceuta and Melilla

There are dates in the Spanish “sketch” for the 2022 OPE -like other years, between June 15 and September 15- but there is still no announced date for the reopening of the border. State Security sources in both African cities agree in advancing that it will not be before trip to Rabat of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Albares, scheduled for before the start of Ramadan, on April 2. And all the sources consulted on the peninsula and on the African continent consider the end of Ramadan, May 2as the most credible timetable for reopening.

in the BOE the last extension of the closure continues; It was published on February 26. It was a ministerial order of the Interior on “temporary restriction of non-essential travel from third countries to the European Union” for “reasons of public order and public health due to the health crisis”. That order extended a first, from July 2020, which declared “the closure, temporarilyof the land posts enabled for entry and exit from Spain through the cities of Ceuta and Melilla”.

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The closure is officially in effect until midnight on March 31, says the Official Gazette. Although, since autumn, the extensions that the minister dictates on this border occlusion Fernando Grande-Marlaska carry a tagline: “Without prejudice to your eventual modification to respond to changed circumstances.

Frontier under construction

The OPE of 2022 presents a new unknown: Algeria’s reaction. Ten percent of the passers-by bound for a break in their country are citizens of the Maghreb state that has just called its ambassador for consultations after Spain’s turn to Morocco. The Spanish administration at the moment does not exclude preparations in the port of Valencia to pluralize the sea bridge options to Algiers, thus unloading Algeciras and Almería.

Interior is not interested in an immediate reopening of borders, since the main point of access to Spanish territory by land is under construction. They are jobs marked by force majeure delays. On March 11, 2020, the first phase of the Garuba Obras y Servicios contract began, which had to stop immediately due to confinement. It was about creating, laying the foundations and paving a new corridor, roofing it to prevent pedestrians and police from being exposed to the sun, and above all reinforcing the metal fences, whose weakness was already detected in 2018 by a report by the infrastructure inspection firm SGS.

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Now it is running third phase, by Eiffage Energía, with a budget of 470,426 euros. What remains to be installed are bollards that emerge from the ground to stop avalanches of cars, an “anti-climbing” system on the fences and, among other intelligent border measures, a facial recognition system.

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The third phase started with the forecast to end in junebut a reopening of the border in May, say State Security sources in Ceuta, will give the opportunity to test everything before it is a flood of Moroccan vacationers coming and going that puts the installation to the test.


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