“Finally!” The 20-year-old Reda said when he arrived in the port of Algeciras in southern Spain on Wednesday, the first day of an operation to facilitate the return home of Moroccans living in Europe for summer holidays.
The short 14-kilometer (nine-mile) route across the Strait of Gibraltar was originally closed in March 2020 when Morocco severed transport links with Europe due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
But while Rabat reopened its maritime borders last summer to other European countries, ties between Morocco and Spain remained closed until April due to a diplomatic dispute between the two countries.
“I couldn’t sleep last night, I was too excited,” said Reda, who drove 4,500 kilometers with his girlfriend to Algeciras in Helsinki, where he is learning to take a ferry to visit his family in Agadir, in the south. west of Morocco.
About 3.3 million people and more than 760,000 vehicles crossed in 2019 during the last Operation Strait Crossing, which is being held this year from June 15 to September 15.
The Spanish government has called seasonal migration “one of the largest flows of people across continents” in such a short time.
Going home for summer vacation is “almost a tradition for us,” said Reda, dressed in flip-flops and a bucket hat and surrounded by cars with bags.
Close families were looking for shady places to eat in the eyes of the red ferries.
The largest flow of passengers is expected at the end of the month and in the first weekend of July after the closure of schools across Europe.
The resumption of maritime traffic came after Spain backed Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara in March, a disputed territory largely controlled by Rabat but claimed by the Polisario Front, which has ended an annual diplomatic crisis.
While ferries run to Morocco from Italy and France, these routes are longer and more expensive.
“It’s a shame … ordinary people are paying the bill with these disputes between politicians,” said Abdel Ghani, a 67-year-old Spanish-Moroccan pensioner who came to Algeciras to buy a ferry ticket.
The authorities of Spain and Marac expect that the number of people who will cross this year will exceed the number of people in 2019 due to delayed demand.
Several thousand police, social workers and volunteers have been mobilized in both countries to help travelers on the roads and in ports and to ensure the smooth flow of traffic.
The shortage of passengers in recent years has led to a loss of revenue for shipping companies, ports and service stations and hotels on the route.
Direct and indirect losses have been nearly 500 million euros ($ 520 million) over the past two years, according to the Algeciras Gulf Service Company Association (Aeseba), which represents 90 local firms.
“Unfortunately, the lost money cannot be returned,” association president Manuel Piedra told AFP.
The association is “satisfied” with Spain’s diplomatic reversal “and that the political situation has been resolved,” he added.
The administration of the port of Algeciras, which is responsible for 75 percent of shipping between Spain and Morocco, estimates it has lost 40 million euros.
Reda said his parents “went crazy” last summer when Morocco resumed its maritime ties with other countries but not Spain.
“When I was a child, I drove every summer to Morocco,” he said, waiting for the ferry to Algeciras.
“It’s weird,” he said, smiling.