Spain, Morocco to boost cooperation on migration

About 68,000 illegal attempts to cross into Europe had been thwarted and 122 people smuggling gangs dismantled between January and the end of September.
Sunday 25/11/2018
On the same wavelength. Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani (R) and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez inspect the guard of honour during a welcoming ceremony in Rabat, on November 19. (Borja Puig De La Bellacasa/Palace of Moncloa)
On the same wavelength. Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani (R) and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez inspect the guard of honour during a welcoming ceremony in Rabat, on November 19. (Borja Puig De La Bellacasa/Palace of Moncloa)

CASABLANCA - Morocco and Spain agreed to boost cooperation on tackling migration during the Spanish prime minister’s first visit to the North African country.

Spain has become the main entry point for migrants crossing the Mediterranean into Europe in 2018, surpassing Italy, which closed its ports to most asylum seekers.

More than 50,000 migrant arrivals to Spain have been recorded this year, the majority departing from Morocco, according to figures from the International Organisation for Migration.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said “migration is a shared responsibility and we must reinforce our cooperation in this area” following talks with Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani.

“Morocco is doing all that is in its power regarding the fight against illegal immigration,” said Othmani on November 19.

The two prime ministers agreed on strengthening the policy of return of “undocumented migrants” as Madrid hopes that Moroccan authorities will raise deported migrants’ quota via the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, according to Spanish daily El Pais.

The current quota was set at 25 migrants a day. But Moroccan authorities have reduced it to 10 without notifying their Spanish counterparts, wrote El Pais.

Morocco has become a destination for sub-Saharan Africans fleeing poverty and war but a growing number, including Moroccans seeking to leave the country, use it as a jumping-off point to cross to Spain.

Moroccan authorities said that about 68,000 illegal attempts to cross into Europe had been thwarted and 122 people-smuggling gangs dismantled between January and the end of September.

On November 1, the North African kingdom imposed a new rule requiring travellers from African countries whose citizens can travel to Morocco without visas, except Algeria and Tunisia, to fill out an online travel form for approval at least 96 hours before leaving home. The goal is to reduce the surge in migrants, mainly landing at Casablanca’s airport.

The European Union has been pressuring Rabat to stem crossings of illegal migrants to Spain, urging it to set up “disembarkation platforms” — centres where migrants’ asylum applications would be processed. But Morocco has rejected the idea outright, with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita calling them “counterproductive mechanisms.”

Sabri Lhou, a Moroccan expert in migration, told The Arab Weekly that illegal migration has returned this year to pre-2005 levels and has become a focus of both Morocco’s and Spain’s local, regional and international political agendas.

“Having been a source of migrants and a transit state, Morocco has become a country of de facto residence, law and policy,” said Lhou. “At a time when it is involved in the implementation of cooperative migration agreements with Europe and Spain in either a bilateral or a multilateral framework and is involved in monitoring its borders to thwart migration attempts towards Spain, Morocco is suffering from a lack of policy designed to integrate immigrants and refugees over its territory.”

Sanchez was accompanied by a government delegation for his first visit to the North African nation since taking office in June.

Political adviser Samir Bennis wrote in an opinion piece for Huffington Post Maghreb that the context in which Sanchez announced his visit to Morocco and the way in which the Spanish press relayed this information showed that the new Spanish government wishes to maintain positive bilateral ties with Morocco, which it has enjoyed for the past ten years.

Spain now ranks as Morocco’s top trading partner, outstripping long-time ally France.

Lhou said the Spanish prime minister’s visit to Morocco and his meeting with Othmani and King Mohammed VI were more for show than substance, as no bilateral economic agreements were signed.

“(The) Spanish PM’s visit has a dimension to strengthen the existing ties between the two countries as it was expressed by Sanchez prior to his visit when he said that Morocco is a reliable and important partner in the economic field and in the fight against terrorism, organised crime and illegal migration,” said Lhou.

The European Union agreed in September to provide Morocco with $275 million in aid to help with basic services and support job creation in a bid to halt the growing flow of illegal migrants from Morocco.

“Morocco has received Spain’s support within the European Union to help Rabat financially in its role in monitoring the flow of migrants to Europe, while Madrid had Morocco’s support in its fight against Catalonia’s secession,” said Lhou.

Morocco is scheduled to host an international UN-sponsored conference on migration December 10-11 in Marrakech.

Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Israel, the United States and the Czech Republic have said they would not sign the non-binding UN migration pact. Australia, Romania and Slovakia have signalled they would follow suit.

8