Morocco moves to stop contraband from Ceuta

Smuggled goods from Ceuta and Melilla into Morocco are valued at $1.2 billion-$1.6 billion.
Sunday 12/01/2020
Heavy loads. Female Moroccan porters use trolleys to transport bundles of goods across Tarajal II border from Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta into Morocco.  (AFP)
Heavy loads. Female Moroccan porters use trolleys to transport bundles of goods across Tarajal II border from Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta into Morocco. (AFP)

CASABLANCA - Morocco is trying to stop the flow of smuggled goods from the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, which is said to total hundreds of millions of dollars.

Moroccan authorities’ operation against of smuggling across the border with Ceuta started in October, dealing a heavy economic blow to both the Spanish enclave and nearby northern Moroccan cities.

“There are many symptoms that Morocco has terminated the phenomenon of portage,” Abdelmalik Mohamed, president of the Association of Residents in Ceuta, told El Confidencial.

A witness told The Arab Weekly there was a long queue at the Moroccan border with Ceuta of people, mainly porters, trying to make it to the Spanish enclave to transport goods on foot into Morocco.

In January 2019, Moroccan Minister of General Affairs and Public Governance Lahcen Daoudi told parliament that the government wanted to end smuggling in northern and north-eastern Morocco and provide decent jobs for local citizens.

“Ceuta is dying. It is doing so little by little. It is disfiguring,” wrote El Faro de Ceuta in December. “The suspension of the portage because of the closure of the Tarajal II (border crossing) that the (Moroccan) government delegation initially ordered and the blockade that is being applied at the border has meant the last straw for a very dangerous situation.”

Smuggling activities across Tarajal II have been suspended since October 9, paralysing the flow of contraband into Morocco. The Spanish newspaper warned that the situation was affecting many people and that it had shown its first consequences with dismissals. Reports of ship owners at Ceuta port firing workers have emerged in Spanish media.

Ceuta annually exports $780 million in goods to Morocco, an estimate by Guillermo Martinez, a former municipal councillor for finance, stated. Last February, Nabil Lakhdar, director-general of Customs of Morocco, told parliament that smuggled goods from Ceuta and Melilla into Morocco were valued at $1.2 billion-$1.6 billion.

Former Moroccan Customs Director Lotfi Abourizk said Morocco’s move was aimed at protecting its industrial sector from goods smuggled into the country.

“Morocco’s [industrial sector] is under threat from goods illegally smuggled from the two Spanish enclaves, which adversely affects local manufacturers through unfair competition,” he said.

The expert said the smuggling in Moroccan regions neighbouring the Spanish enclaves thrived because of the absence of industries that could generate jobs.

“There is an emigration from these two regions because of the absence of agricultural and other industrial activities. This is why the Moroccan authorities are turning a blind eye on illegal smuggling, to preserve the population,” he said.

About 40% of the porters who migrated from southern and rural areas of Morocco to work in the portage have returned to their home after hearing that Tarajal II would not be opened again to the passage of goods, Moroccan authorities said.

Some 12,000-15,000 porters, mostly women, were said to carry contraband daily between Ceuta and Morocco and 3,000-5,000 did so between Melilla and Morocco, a Spanish government estimate from May 2017 stated.

The scenes of “mule” women — also known as porters — carrying heavy loads across the border between the Spanish enclaves and Morocco and their mistreatment by the Spanish and Moroccan Customs made headlines.

In January 2018, two women died in a stampede at the Tarajal II crossing. The El Tarajal Business Association proposed wheelbarrows as a solution to lessening the risk of stampedes following the incident.

Human rights groups repeatedly denounced the exploitation of women in illegal trade, calling on both countries to alleviate

their suffering.

Abourizk emphasised the health risk of smuggled goods into Morocco.

“Seizures have shown that lots of outdated food products have their expiry dates changed and smuggled into Morocco, which presents a grave health risk to our consumers,” he said.