Morocco and Algeria Summon Each Other's Ambassadors Over Syrian Refugee Squabble

Syria war
Members of the Syrian civil defence volunteers and people attempt to look for survivors from the rubble following reported air-strikes on the rebel-held town of Saqba, in Eastern Ghouta, on April 4, 2017.The conflict in Syria, erupted in 2011, has displaced millions of people. MSALLAM ABDALBASET/AFP/Getty Images

Morocco and Algeria summoned each other's ambassadors and traded accusations on Sunday after Rabat charged Algerian authorities had allowed 54 Syrians to "illegally enter" Morocco to stir tensions on their mutual border.

The North African neighbors often exchange diplomatic barbs and share a 1,500-km (970-mile) land frontier - shut since 1994 after disputes over security - that runs from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sahara Desert.

Morocco said the Syrians attempted to enter Morocco through the border town of Figuig, an area surrounded by mountains, between April 17 and 19. It accused Algeria of forcing them to cross into Morocco.

"Algeria must assume political responsibility and morality concerning this situation," a government statement on MAP state news agency said.

"It is immoral and unethical to manipulate the moral and physical distress of these people, (and) to sow trouble in the Morocco-Algerian border."

But Algeria's foreign ministry called in the Moroccan envoy to Algiers later to reject the accusations, saying Moroccan officials had tried to dispatch a group of Syrians over the border from Morocco into Algeria.

"He was given a categorical denial of the false allegations, and it was shown they were totally unfounded and aimed at harming Algeria," the statement on APS state news agency said.

Some 5,000 Syrians have gone through a migration regulatory process in Morocco, with several hundred receiving refugee status, according to Morocco's ministry of foreign affairs.

Morocco and Algeria have had a contentious relationship since independence from France. Border disputes triggered an armed conflict in the 1960s known as the "Sand War".

One of their biggest disputes has been over Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, most of which Morocco annexed in 1975. Algeria supports and hosts the Western Saharan independence movement Polisario, a stance that angers Morocco.