Morocco gets EU aid to help stem illegal migration

More than 38,000 arrivals to Spain have been recorded this year, making Spain the main entry point into Europe in 2018.
Sunday 23/09/2018
Young Moroccans gather at the harbour of the port city of Ceuta as they wait for the opportunity to board a boat for Europe. (AFP)
Dreaming of the north. Young Moroccans gather at the harbour of the port city of Ceuta as they wait for the opportunity to board a boat for Europe. (AFP)

CASABLANCA - Morocco has recently seen a surge in the number of illegal migrants trying to cross to Spain by land and sea, prompting the European Union to boost its aid to Rabat to stem illegal migration.

More than 38,000 arrivals to Spain have been recorded this year, making Spain the main entry point into Europe in 2018 and outstripping the numbers crossing from North Africa to Italy, which closed its ports to most asylum seekers.

The European Union agreed to provide Rabat with $275 million in aid to help with basic services and support job creation to halt a flow of illegal migrants from Morocco, Bloomberg News reported.

EU Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn and Moroccan Finance Minister Mohamed Benchaaboun signed agreements for the funding of social development and the competitiveness of the private sector through two programmes: “Competitiveness and Green Growth” and “Support for Social Protection Reform in Morocco.”

The “Competitiveness and Green Growth” programme will support the government’s effort to boost self-entrepreneurs, first-time exporters and improve the business climate and the emergence of recycling channels.

It will back a new national strategy for financial inclusion and particularly the Innov Invest programme implemented by Morocco’s Caisse Centrale de Garantie.

The “Support for Social Protection Reform in Morocco” programme seeks to help Morocco’s efforts in reducing inequalities and improving social cohesion and human development through the promotion of equitable access to basic social services.

Rabat has repeatedly asked the European Union for financial and technical support to deal with illegal migration.

Government spokesman Mustapha el-Khalfi said Morocco implemented the 1992 agreement between Morocco and Spain stipulating the repatriation of the clandestine migrants who made it to the Spanish territory from Morocco.

“Morocco is making exceptional efforts knowing that in 2017 it has thwarted some 65,000 cases of illegal immigration. This responsibility must be collectively assumed with Europe,” Khalfi said.

“The government is working to strengthen this strategy and consolidate migrants’ rights to stay, health, education and employment,” he said, adding that Morocco is the only country in Africa that has a migration strategy.

Morocco has become a destination for sub-Saharan Africans fleeing poverty and war but many also use it as a platform to cross to Spain.

More than 900 African migrants forced their way into the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in the last two months after spending months hiding in forests in northern Morocco. Moroccan police have since chased thousands of African migrants and bused them to the other end of the country, prompting criticism from human rights groups.

Youssouf, a 20-year-old from Niger who lives in a makeshift camp opposite Casablanca’s bus station, said he was begging at the city’s main traffic lights to save money to pay smugglers. “I will try to fulfil my lifetime dream to cross to Spain by boat. My family is counting on me to help them have a better life in Niger,” said Youssouf.

Authorities insist that busing migrants from the northern border helps crack down on human trafficking but human rights groups denounced the move, warning that forcible displacement of migrants violated freedom of movement.

“This shocking crackdown on migrants and refugees in Morocco is both cruel and unlawful. It represents a worrying backslide for a government that in 2013 introduced new asylum and migration policy commitments to bring Morocco into compliance with international standards,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa director.

The Moroccan Association for Human Rights estimated that 5,000 people have been caught in raids since July, put on buses and abandoned in remote areas near the Algerian border or in southern Morocco.

EU leaders are considering setting up “disembarkation platforms” in North African countries where officials could screen refugees rescued at sea to determine which are eligible for protection and which would be deported to their countries of origin.

Morocco rejected the idea of “disembarkation platforms,” with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita last June calling them “counterproductive mechanisms.”