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Spain Sends Troops After Thousands Of Migrants Reach Ceuta

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Spain is a European nation, of course. But you look at a map and you see it's just across the Straits of Gibraltar from Africa. And for centuries, Spain has controlled bits of African territory, including the city we're going to hear about next. Ceuta is on the Mediterranean shore, and it is attached to Morocco. In recent days, almost 8,000 migrants - a quarter of them children - have crossed from Morocco, and the Spanish government has sent troops in response. We'll discuss this with Associated Press reporter Aritz Parra, who is in Madrid. Welcome to the program.

ARITZ PARRA: Thank you very much. Good morning.

INSKEEP: I guess looking at the map, I can see why migrants would be attracted. There's effectively a land border with Europe. You can walk from Africa into a little bit of Europe. What is happening in that - at that border in recent days?

PARRA: Well, yeah. The - and also the nearby Melilla, which is also Spanish territory, have always been a flashpoint for migrants trying to enter European soil. They are seen as a stepping point to the European mainland. But what has happened has been extremely unusual. I mean, every year - last year there were 2,200 people, more or less, who crossed into southern Melilla, into these two Spanish enclaves in northern Africa. But in a matter of just 48 hours, we suddenly saw 8,000 people swimming, jumping above fences and even paddling on inflatable boats and reaching Ceuta. And this is extremely unusual. Let's think that this is a population of 85,000 people in the city, which suddenly is getting 8,000 migrants - most of them Moroccans, but also from other countries in Africa.

INSKEEP: OK, and you mentioned paddling boats. It's a little peninsula, I guess, so people might take a very short water trip to get around to the peninsula. But is there any sense of why 8,000 migrants would arrive in a matter of a couple of days?

PARRA: Well, until now, neither side was stating it clearly - wasn't stating clearly why was this happening, and we were sort of, like, figuring out from past remarks from politicians. But now, today especially, it has become very clear with the statements both from the Moroccan side and the Spanish side that this has to do with Spain's decision to actually allow the leader of a militant group to receive medical treatment in a Spanish hospital. That person is Brahim Ghali. He's the head of the Polisario Front, which is the group that fights for independent - for an independent Western Sahara. The Western Sahara is a former Spanish colony, annexed in the 1970s...

INSKEEP: I - wait a minute. I want to make sure - in the very few seconds we have, I want to make sure I understand this.

PARRA: Yes.

INSKEEP: The suggestion is being made that Morocco is not happy with Spain's harboring this man, and so they're sending refugees at Spanish territory as a kind of weapon. Is that the theory?

PARRA: That is the theory, and that's what - we have basically just received confirmation from a Moroccan official who is just sending that message to Madrid, saying, what were you expecting? Why did you decide to provide this help to somebody that Morocco says is an enemy, and therefore, you obviously have to put up with the consequences, and one of the consequences is actually having all those migrants in your own territory.

INSKEEP: Remarkable, remarkable story. AP reporter Aritz Parra. Thank you very much.

PARRA: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF KENO AND TRISTAN DE LIEGE'S "NKOSI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.