EXPLAINER: Spain's migrant crisis in North Africa

Full Screen
1 / 13

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Spanish Army soldiers expel a migrant from the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. About 8,000 people have streamed into the Spanish city of Ceuta from Morocco in the past two days in an unprecedented influx of migrants, most of them swimming across the border to reach the Spanish enclave in North Africa. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

About 8,000 people have streamed into the Spanish city of Ceuta from Morocco in the past two days in an unprecedented influx, most of them swimming around breakwaters and across the border to reach the Spanish enclave in North Africa.

The surge has strained relations between Morocco and Spain, with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez canceling a trip to Paris to make an unscheduled visit to Ceuta, where Spain has deployed military reinforcements and police along the border. Here's a look at what's going on:

WHERE IS CEUTA?

Ceuta is a coastal city in North Africa that has belonged to Spain since the 16th century. Like Melilla, another Spanish possession on the Moroccan coast, Ceuta in recent decades has become a flashpoint for migrants from Morocco and sub-Saharan Africa seeking to enter Europe.

Last year about 2,200 people crossed into Ceuta and Melilla by scaling border fences or swimming from the Moroccan side. Ceuta has a population of 85,000 and is connected to mainland Spain by ferry services across the narrow Strait of Gibraltar.

WHAT IS HAPPENING IN CEUTA?

Migrants regularly make it across the border in small numbers, but the scale of the crossings this week is exceptional. Thousands of people were able to reach the border area without being stopped by Moroccan authorities.

About 8,000, including 2,000 believed to be minors, reached Ceuta in the past two days by swimming or paddling in small boats around breakwaters separating the two countries. Most were Moroccans, though there were also migrants from sub-Saharan Africa.