Trump urged Spain to build wall across the Sahara to stop migrants

The US president suggested emulating one of his most famous policies

Trump said: “The Sahara border can’t be bigger than our border with Mexico.” Photograph: Leah Millis/Reuters

Trump said: “The Sahara border can’t be bigger than our border with Mexico.” Photograph: Leah Millis/Reuters

 

Donald Trump suggested the Spanish government tackle the Mediterranean migration crisis by emulating one of his his most famous policies and building a wall across the Sahara desert, the country’s foreign minister has revealed.

According to Josep Borrell, the US president brushed off the scepticism of Spanish diplomats – who pointed out that the Sahara stretches for 3,000 miles – saying: “The Sahara border can’t be bigger than our border with Mexico. ”

Mr Trump wooed voters in the 2016 election with his promise to build a “big, beautiful wall” across the US/Mexico border, which is roughly 2,000 miles long.

A similar plan in the Sahara, however, would be complicated by the fact that Spain now holds only two small enclaves in north AfricaCeuta and Melilla – and such a wall would have to be built on foreign territory.

Mr Borrell’s comments were made at a lunch event in Madrid this week and widely reported in the Spanish media.

“We can confirm that’s what the minister said, but we won’t be making any further comment on the minister’s remarks,” a spokesman for the foreign ministry told the Guardian.

Mr Trump is thought to have made his frontier recommendation when Borrell accompanied King Felipe and Queen Letizia to the White House in June.

Spain has found itself on the front lines of the migration crisis in 2019, with more than 33,600 migrants and refugees arriving by sea so far this year, and 1,723 dying in the attempt.

The increase in arrivals – three times the total for the same period last year – has seen Spain overtake Italy and Greece as the main destination for those crossing the Mediterranean.

The country’s new socialist prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, was widely praised for announcing that Spain would take in the 630 refugees aboard the rescue ship Aquarius after they were turned away by Italy and Malta.

But the high number of arrivals on Spain’s southern coast has put a grave strain on reception facilities and infrastructure.

The issue has also been used as a political weapon by rightwing parties who accuse Mr Sanchez’s government of double standards and being too soft on immigration.

Mr Borrell, a former president of the European parliament, has previously accused Europe of “ostrich politics” when it comes to migration and called for perspective on the matter.

“We’re talking about 20,000 migrants so far this year for a country of more than 40 million inhabitants,” he said in July. “That’s not mass migration.”

He also said Spain’s problems were dwarfed by those of some Middle Eastern countries hosting refugees from the war in Syria, adding: “We’re trivialising the word ‘mass’.”

Speaking at the event in Madrid this week, Mr Borrell said the 1990s political maxim “it’s the economy, stupid”, had given way to “it’s about identity, stupid”.

“We’ve sorted the economic problem, but not the migration problem because it’s an emotional problem and not one you fix with money,” he said, according to reports by El Pais and Europa Press.

“European societies aren’t structured to absorb more than a certain percentage of migrants, especially if they are Muslims.”– Guardian