The 2023 edition of Operation Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar (OPE), known as Operation Marhaba in Morocco, began this Monday. Under the instructions and effective presidency of King Mohammed VI, the Mohammed V Foundation for Solidarity has launched a new edition of this initiative that allows Moroccans living abroad to organise their return to their own country in order to spend their summer holidays in the North African country.
Operation Crossing the Strait includes the crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar for the thousands of North Africans returning to their country to enjoy their holidays. It is a "global reception system in Morocco, France, Italy and Spain, made up of 24 points of care and support for members of the community", according to an official note from the Mohammed V Foundation, which is in charge of the operation.
The OPE will be active until 15 September, thus covering the entire summer season so that Moroccans and North Africans living abroad can comfortably go to their homeland to enjoy the holiday period.
The Mohammed V Foundation is the one that has activated the reception system in Morocco, France, Italy and Spain, made up of 24 points of care and support for the compatriots concerned, and the Foundation itself indicated in an official note that these points will be operational throughout Operation Marhaba, three and a half months to organise the arrival and return of those taking part in this operation.
18 reception zones are operational in Morocco: Tangier Med, Tangier Ville, Al Hoceima and Nador, at the airports of Casablanca Mohammed V, Rabat - Salé, Oujda Angad, Nador, Agadir Al Massira, Fès Saïss, Marrakech Menara and Tangier Ibn Battouta, at the Mediterranean rest areas of Jebha, Tazaghine and Smir M'Diq, as well as at the border posts of Bab Sebta and Melilla.
Outside the Moroccan borders, six Operation Marhaba sites are located in the European ports of Genoa (Italy), Sète and Marseille (France), Motril, Almeria and Algeciras (Spain).
There are also regular social and medical assistance services, reinforced by the participation of social workers on board the long-haul ships set up as was the case for the 2021 edition, and available at the reception points deployed by the Foundation in Morocco and abroad.
A staff of nearly 1,400 people, including teams from the Foundation, social workers, doctors, paramedics and volunteers, are mobilised in the centres set up to listen to Moroccans living abroad, assist them and provide them with the necessary support and assistance for the entire operation that enables them to travel between the country in which they are living and Morocco.
The Marhaba call service, centralised at the level of the Central Coordination Office (BCC - daily operations monitoring unit) and accessible directly from Morocco on the toll-free number 080 000 23 23 and 08086 907 93 (additional number launched this year), will be available 7 days a week and 24 hours a day for the duration of the operation. It is also operational on the following telephone numbers: 00 212 537 20 5566 / 00 212 537 20 6666 for calls from abroad, 00 39 340 685 93 85 (Genoa) for Italy, 00 33 601 351 071 (Marseille) and 00 33 619 594 359 (Sète) for France, and 00 34 631 243 474 (Motril), 00 34 612 428 784 (Almeria) and 00 34 612 586 780 (Algeciras) for Spain.
Cooperation between Spain and Morocco in particular has been very close, highlighting the good diplomatic relations between the two countries, which initialled many agreements on various matters, including migration and social issues, following the High Level Meeting (HLM) held in Rabat. A summit that showed that relations between the two countries are currently at one of their best moments following the latest rapprochement that took place thanks to the step taken by Spain to recognise the Moroccan proposal for Western Sahara as the most "serious, credible and realistic" with a view to resolving the Sahrawi conflict that has lasted for more than four decades.
The Spanish Minister of the Interior, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, stressed a couple of weeks ago that everything was ready for the special arrangements for the 2023 OPE to be carried out "with full guarantees" and with an "adequate service" to attend to travellers.
Grande-Marlaska pointed out that the OPE in Ceuta and Melilla has accumulated 35 years of experience "with absolutely satisfactory results" and "very well-oiled protocols". Although he acknowledged that the aim is to continue improving the service, above all through the great work carried out by the Spanish-Moroccan Joint Commission for Monitoring the OPE. In 2022, despite the incidents that were recorded, a total of 2,912,283 passengers and 695,487 vehicles crossed the Strait smoothly, and now it is hoped to exceed these figures.