30/07/2021

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Morocco excludes Spanish sea links in summer transit plan for diaspora

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Morocco launched on Tuesday the great annual summer transit plan for its diaspora with a scheme excluding all sea links via Spain, and with discounts on air links to cushion the cost difference for travelers.

Against the backdrop of a major diplomatic crisis between Rabat and Madrid, the 2021 edition of this operation, which the Moroccan press presents as “one of the largest movements of people on the European continent”, excludes all Spanish ports, including Algeciras located less than an hour’s crossing from Tangier.

The only maritime links planned are from France (Sète, Marseille), Italy (Genoa) or Portugal (Portimao), with a total of 650,000 passengers and 180,000 vehicles expected between June 15 and September 15 – four times less than usual – according to figures from the Moroccan Ministry of Transport. The Moroccan diaspora has greeted this arrangement with immense disappointment, lamenting the much higher costs and longer crossing times, according to the local press.

Fares reduced

Faced with the discontent, King Mohamed VI ordered on Monday the local actors of air and sea transport to “practice reasonable prices”. The national airline Royal Air Maroc (RAM) has published lower fares on all its destinations for the 2.5 million seats offered this summer.

The expectation of the diaspora is all the greater because in 2020, travel was limited due to the pandemic. Fewer than 50,000 passengers and 22,000 vehicles had been transshipped during the summer, according to official figures.

In 2019, about three of the five million Moroccans expatriates in Europe had returned to their native country in the summer, crossing Spain and then the Strait of Gibraltar.Contacted by AFP, the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not want to specify whether the political or health situation had motivated the plan.

Exclusion of Spain

The exclusion of Spain from the scheme represents losses of between 450 and 500 million euros, just for the ferry companies operating the crossing, according to a calculation by the company FRS Iberia. It also jeopardizes several thousand jobs, especially seasonal, in the region of the port of Algeciras.

The arrival of nearly 10,000 migrants in Ceuta in mid-May, following a relaxation of border controls on the Moroccan side, marked the culmination of a major crisis between Rabat and Madrid caused by the hospitalization in Spain of the leader of the Polisario Front Sahrawi independence movement, considered by Morocco to be a “war criminal.