Spain's prime minister meets with Morocco's king and discusses migration and the Israel-Hamas war

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez speaks at a press conference after holding meetings with his Moroccan counterpart during an official visit to Rabat, Morocco, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. (AP Photo)

By SAM METZ Associated Press

RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez met with Moroccan King Mohammed VI on Wednesday, lauding cooperation on managing migration.

Sánchez also reiterated Spain’s position in support of Morocco’s autonomy plan regarding the disputed Western Sahara and called for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war, which began in October.

“We must also guarantee access to humanitarian aid. The work the UNRWA in the Middle East is fundamental, and Spain has been defending this,” Sánchez said in Rabat, referring to the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees.

Last month, Israel said that 12 of UNRWA’s employees took part in the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, prompting the United States and other donors to suspend funding to the agency. Israel has called for UNRWA to be disbanded, but no other U.N. agencies or aid groups are capable of immediately replacing it.

Sánchez addressed reporters alone at a news conference in the Morocco’s capital, without the presence of the king or Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch, after his meetings with Moroccan officials.

Sánchez’s remarks on migration came as Spain and Morocco reckon with a spike in migration to the Canary Islands and Europe-wide debate and protests about agricultural regulations and imports. Morocco has in recent years worked to prevent border crossings to Spain’s two North African exclaves, Ceuta and Melilla, and boat crossings through the Strait of Gibraltar.

But this year, boat landings on Spain’s Canary Islands, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) off the Moroccan coastline have increased. Most of the boats come from Mauritania, directly south of Morocco, with Morocco attempting to intercept those that pass through its waters en route. Spain’s Interior Ministry reported 11,704 migrants had arrived to the Canaries as of Feb. 15 — more than a sixfold increase from a year earlier.

Spain and Morocco maintain close business and political ties as Moroccans make up the single largest foreign community in Spain. The European country serves as Morocco’s largest foreign investor. Sánchez last visited Morocco in February 2023, but didn’t meet with Mohammed.

In Wednesday’s news conference, Sánchez reiterated Spain’s two-year-old position on Morocco’s claims to the disputed Western Sahara. Spain’s move to back Morocco’s plan caused relations to warm, and Spain was one of five countries that Morocco accepted assistance from in the aftermath of its September earthquake.

The visit also comes as protesters demonstrate in Madrid to decry policies they see as a financial burden and make their products more expensive than non-European Union imports, including tomatoes from Morocco, Europe’s leading importer. Earlier this month, demonstrators unloaded and trampled a truck full of Moroccan tomatoes in southern Spain.


Follow AP’s coverage of migration issues at https://apnews.com/hub/migration