African migrants climb the border from Morocco to Spain's North African enclave of Ceuta, Spain | Photo: Reuters/Reuters TV
African migrants climb the border from Morocco to Spain's North African enclave of Ceuta, Spain | Photo: Reuters/Reuters TV

Morocco says it has reduced irregular migrant departures to Europe. This comes after Spain and Morocco boosted joint efforts to curtail migration. Still, Spain has called for more EU aid to help Morocco tackle migration. NGOs have criticized Morocco's treatment of migrants.

Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said the number of migrants departing from Morocco to Spain was 40 percent lower in May 2019 than in May 2018. This, Moroccan and Spanish authorities say, is the product of the their joint efforts to reduce migration.

So far this year, Morocco claims its security forces have dismantled 60 trafficking networks and stopped more than 30,000 attempts to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. Moroccan authorities did not comment on the fate of the migrants who were stopped.

Last year, Spain was the European country with the highest number of sea arrivals. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), around 65,000 migrants arrived irregularly in 2018, almost all of them by sea. This year, Greece has seen more migrant arrivals than Spain.

Closer cooperation

Starting late last year, the European Union and Spain increased their cooperation with Moroccan authorities. This meant that the EU and Spain sent Morocco more aid money. Spanish Premier Pedro Sanchez and his Moroccan counterpart Saadeddine Othmani agreed on a plan to fight human trafficking, reduce the number of arrivals and help migrants return to their home countries.

In February, Spain and Morocco reached a deal. Under the agreement, Spain’s sea rescue services, Salvamento Marítimo, is allowed to take rescued migrants back to Moroccan ports.

Since 2014, the EU has spent €232 million ($262 million) on migration-related projects with Morocco, according to the EU office dealing with relations with neighboring countries.

Part of that is a €140 million border management package to help Morocco curb migration flows. The EU also gave €36 million in emergency assistance to Spain, EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said in March.

Funds still ‘insufficient’

Moroccan officials have repeatedly said the country can't be Europe's "migration police." They want their northern neighbors to provide funds to manage the migration crisis in their country. Spain is reportedly seeking an additional €50 million (nearly $56 million) from the EU for Morocco.

Spain's Foreign Minister Josep Borrell called the funds provided to Morocco to date "insufficient, but more significant than in the past."

"Morocco is helping us," Borrell said.

During Borrell's visit to Morocco on Monday, his Moroccan counterpart Bourita said Morocco is "very satisfied" with their partnership with Spain.

‘Outsourcing of border controls’

A parliamentarian from the city of Tiznit complained in a letter to Morocco's Interior Ministry last week about the "negative effects" of the government's migration policies on his city. Migrants who were stopped from emigrating in northern Tunisia are reportedly sometimes brought southern Tunisian cities like Tiznit. 

"These Africans will live for several days in dire humanitarian conditions [in Tiznit], before leaving the city and return to the north, repeating the same journey only to return and beg in the streets of Tiznit," wrote the PJD Islamist party's Brahim Boughaden.

Since last year, Moroccan authorities have forcefully returned some migrants to Sub-Saharan countries, according to a May 21 internal EU report.

NGOs and human rights activists have in the past criticized the ‘outsourcing of border controls’ to North African countries, warning it creates a risk of human rights violations by Morocco and the like. Amnesty International last year denounced a Moroccan crackdown on sub-Saharan migrants, including alleged mass roundups and expulsions without due process.

Morocco denies all accusations of violations of migrants' rights.

With material from AP and Reuters


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