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Spain with no plans for Operation Crossing the Straits COVID-19: Everything depends on when Morocco opens its borders

The confinement and state of alarm that is installed in Morocco could make Operation Strait Crossing (OPE) 2020 unviable, so Moroccans who want to return to their country of origin would have to stay in Europe. The president of the shipping company Balearia, Adolfo Utor, in microphones of Onda Cero Ceuta has indicated that “we cannot see with optimism” the subject of the Operation Crossing the Strait.
It seems that Operation Strait Passage (OPE) 2020 may not materialize. The State of Alert of Morocco, which has extended it for three more weeks until June 10, could make things difficult for those Moroccan citizens residing in Spain or in other European countries who intend to return to their land from June 15, the date on which the OPE opens and which lasts until September 15.

The Government of Morocco has announced this in an extraordinary session of the two chambers of parliament this week. On this measure, the President of the Moroccan Executive, Saadedin Otmani, assures that “he puts the health of his citizens before any other consideration”.

“There is no better option than that,” said Otmani, who said the epidemiological situation “is stable and under control, but it is not reassuring,” at a time when the country is racking up nearly 200 deaths and 4,000 cases of contagion. With this announcement, Otmani revealed one of the doubts they were planning in the country, and that is whether the feast of the end of Ramadan (which causes a lot of displacement) would be celebrated with confinement measures, as it will finally be.

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Meanwhile, many Moroccans living in Spain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands are concerned about this issue, as many want to return to their country for the holidays. One of these cases is that of Hanae, a university student living in Madrid, who explains this situation to elcierredigital.com. “From Morocco they are still forbidden to travel. At the moment we cannot travel from here to there. It is rumored that until September they will not open the borders,” he details.

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“In Morocco they have taken it very seriously. If you don’t have an authorization signed by the Town Hall you can’t go out, unless it’s to buy food. After 6pm no one is allowed to go out. They stop you,” says this student of Moroccan origin, who adds that “people are very angry. In my town, Tetouan, there are only six infected people right now.

Hanae points out the situation of confinement among the population: “People do not work because they are not allowed to and are staying hungry. There is no help. The government is supposed to have given aid, but it is badly organized. They are given between 80 and 100 euros per month. Not much. They ask for it and it seems that it is the lottery. People with dependent families don’t get it and then there are kids with no responsibility who get it.

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Possible from France and almost impossible from Spain
The Port of Algeciras, used for Operation Cross-Strait, is the most used with 76 percent of the connections and 59.2 percent of the passengers. It is followed by Almería, with 15.5 percent of passengers, and Tarifa, with 12.3 percent. The most used route was Algeciras-Tangier, with 36.4 percent of passengers, Algeciras-Ceuta, with 19.3 percent and Tarifa-Tangier, with 12.3 percent. In terms of vehicles, the Algeciras-Tangier route stands out even more, with almost 50 percent of transfers.

According to the newspaper El Mundo, caution was the keynote of the Port Authority of the Bay of Algeciras (APBA) these days. As sources from the aforementioned media point out, the APBA “is prepared if the plan has to be implemented”, but they see it as very complicated, although the decision obviously depends on the health authorities, the Government, Civil Protection and even the European Union. “Prudence, with health as a priority and waiting for what they tell us,” say the sources mentioned.

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However, Adolfo Utor, president of the shipping company Baleària, which has been in charge of providing maritime services during the State of Alert, has indicated in the microphones of Onda Cero Ceuta that “there are doubts for the Operation Crossing the Strait”. According to Utor, “It is a subject that we still see far away and we cannot see with optimism (…). We are working with national tourism with tourists to Ceuta, the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands and Melilla. We see the OPE as complicated, although we don’t rule it out completely”.

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Meanwhile, in France, the Maghreb population could have a chance to fly back to Morocco. The French airline Air France is resuming its services and, from June 15, will open a series of lines that have as their destination different points of Africa, as detailed on the website Bladi.es. At the moment Morocco is not on this list, but a decision can be taken from 20 May, when the confinement could be lifted.

All these questions are those that arise in the face of Operation Strait Passage of 2020, an operation that each year mobilises almost three million Maghrebi who cross the bay of Algeciras to enjoy their holidays in their country of origin, in a modus operandi coordinated by the Andalusian government and Civil Protection, with the authority of the Port of Algeciras and others involved.

In general, although no one wants to take the step officially, it is almost taken for granted that in the coming weeks the Spanish Government together with the European Union, since France is key because the majority of Maghrebi citizens leave from there, will announce that the Operation will be cancelled in its usual format and another modus operandi will have to be arbitrated or definitively suspended.

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