Spain turns to Africa, pressures NATO and allies over Ukraine-led migration

  • Spain hosts NATO summit this week
  • Spain should push for more shared intelligence, sources say
  • Families making dangerous crossings from Africa to the Canary Islands
  • Morocco cracks down on immigration after Spain deal
  • Migrant deaths in Melilla highlight dangers, say NGOs

MADRID/LAS PALMAS, June 27 (Reuters) – Spain is reorienting its foreign policy towards Africa while pressuring the EU and NATO to support the fight against migration from the continent, aggravated by the invasion of Ukraine, two senior government officials and two diplomatic sources told Reuters. .

Spain will use a NATO summit in Madrid this week to make its case and will likely ask for increased intelligence sharing by the alliance, including on migration-related issues, diplomats said.

Even before Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez had relaunched a strategy shelved by previous governments of working with African partners to contain migration and tackle the root causes. such as instability and climate change, two officials close to him said.

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This campaign has now become more urgent, they added.

“We are looking for good relations with all the neighbors around us and together we manage phenomena that no one, not even the most powerful state on the planet, can manage alone,” Spain’s foreign minister told Reuters. Jose Manuel Albares. He declined to give details.

Spain, its southern neighbors and EU officials are increasingly alarmed that a hunger crisis compounded by the disruption of grain exports from Ukraine will trigger chaotic migration from the Sahel and sub-Saharan regions of Africa, with numbers already rising this year, the sources said. .

On Friday, at least 23 migrants died after clashes with Moroccan security forces as around 2,000 people tried to enter Spain’s North African enclave of Melilla. Morocco has tightened containment measures in recent weeks following Spain’s new diplomatic approach. Read more

Migration by sea to the Canary Islands, another risky but popular entry point into Europe, jumped 51% between January and May this year compared to last year, according to Spanish data, the most busiest of the year to come.

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Spain is used as a gateway to Europe by migrants from other continents, especially Africa and Latin America. Although largely a transit country, previous increases in arrivals have put its border resources under intense pressure.

Albares said the new strategy, which has seen Sanchez visit nine African countries since last year, was designed to protect migrants from harm.

“We cannot allow the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, to become huge watery tombs where every year thousands of human beings die when they only yearn for a better life,” Albares said. .

However, human rights groups and migration advocates say Spain’s drive to outsource law enforcement puts vulnerable people in the hands of security forces in countries with history of abuse and policing.

The deaths in Morocco “are a tragic symbol of European policies of externalizing EU borders”, groups such as the Moroccan Association for Human Rights and the Spanish charity Walking Borders said in a statement on Saturday. joint statement.

Sanchez’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

INTELLIGENCE SHARING

In a sign of its growing anxiety, Madrid is hoping to secure a commitment at the NATO summit for better monitoring of “hybrid threats”, including the possibility of irregular migration being used as a political pressure tactic by hostile actors. He will also pressure NATO to devote resources to securing the alliance’s southern flank. Read more

Madrid will ask NATO for “shared allied intelligence”, including on migration-related issues, a senior Spanish diplomatic source and an EU diplomat said. This could formalize and extend existing intelligence cooperation.

At the summit, NATO will strengthen cooperation efforts with the countries of the South and agree on a package for Mauritania to help “the fight against terrorism, border control and the strengthening of its defense and security” , NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told El Pais newspaper over the weekend.

NATO’s expanded presence could see Mauritania, which works closely with Spain, help coordinate with other countries in the Sahel region, said Felix Arteaga, senior defense analyst at the Elcano Institute of Madrid, a think tank.

Foreign Minister Albares declined to give details on how NATO might expand its operations in Africa.

NATO sources and academics report that Spain’s proposals will meet resistance amid the conflicting needs of countries such as Russia’s vulnerable neighbors in the Baltic states. Read more

Spain says Russia’s growing influence in unstable countries, including the Central African Republic and Sahel country Mali, risks fueling insecurity in southern Europe. Read more

Citing the presence of Russian military contractors in Mali, the blockade of grain exports from Ukraine and Moscow’s ally in Belarus last year’s policy of allowing migrants into the EU, Madrid says that President Vladmir Putin could use migration and hunger as part of his war effort.

“Putin wants to use the food crisis to orchestrate a repeat of the migration crisis of the magnitude we saw in 2015-2016 to destabilize the EU,” a European Union official told Reuters.

Moscow denies responsibility for the food crisis, blaming Western sanctions that limit its own grain exports for soaring world prices.

The Russian Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

FUNDING FOR THE SAHEL

In recent weeks, Sanchez has held a series of bilateral meetings with heads of state and officials from Nigeria, Morocco and Mauritania to discuss economic cooperation, human trafficking, capacity building borders and the fight against terrorism.

In June, the government sent a new development bill to parliament to channel funding to the Sahel. The legislation would mark a significant expansion of existing funding for migration control in eight African countries.

Italy has also sought to drum up support, with the government previously hosting a meeting of southern European countries to push for a post-Ukrainian migration policy that distributes the number of arrivals more evenly across Italy. ‘Europe. Read more

People are already on the move. Data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) shows that departures from the Sahelian nation of Niger in the first four months of this year rose by 45%, and from neighboring Mali they doubled.

This increase has not yet translated into arrivals on European shores.

A Reuters review of data from the European border and coast guard agency Frontex showed that the number of migrants arriving in the Canary Islands from Africa’s Sahel region and below, Guinea, Senegal , from Ivory Coast and Ghana, increased in the first five months of 2022 compared to the same period last year.

Whole families are increasingly making the journey to the Atlantic islands in flimsy dinghies from the south to Senegal and Guinea, citing insecurity, climate change and, in more recent cases, the high food prices, said Jose Antonio Rodríguez Verona, a Red Cross official. in the Canary Islands.

Morocco remains the largest country of origin and transit point for migrants to Spain, with record numbers of Moroccans reaching the Canary Islands in January and February this year.

These figures, however, fell by 85% in March and April compared to the previous two months, according to Frontex figures, after Spain changed its policy on disputed Western Sahara to align with Morocco’s position. Albares attributed the drop directly to the change in policy.

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“I would like to thank the extraordinary cooperation we have with the Kingdom of Morocco,” Spanish Prime Minister Sanchez said on Saturday after the deaths in Melilla, which he blamed on gangs of human traffickers.

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Reporting by Belen Carreno, Joan Faus and Borja Suarez, additional reporting Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels, Emma Farge in Geneva, Ed McAllister in Dakar, Ahmed El Jechtimi in Rabat, editing by Aislinn Laing and Frank Jack Daniel

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