168 migrants tried to cross the western Mediterranean from Morocco to Spain last week with makeshift crafts. Morocco's coast guard said it stopped the attempted crossings and returned the migrants to Morocco.
The Moroccan coast guard said it has intercepted 168 migrants who tried to reach Spain using makeshift crafts, including jet-skis and kayaks, the MAP state news agency reported Saturday.
Citing military sources, MAP said the migrants had come from sub-Saharan Africa and were intercepted on Wednesday, September 9 as well on Thursday, September 10. After receiving the "necessary care," they were brought back to different ports in northern Morocco.
Arrest of 168 Would-be Immigrants in the Mediterranean (Military Source)https://t.co/c9vPjS0Af9 pic.twitter.com/r2bnbjXDcZ— MAP Agency (@agency_map) September 12, 2020
Located in northwestern Africa, the Kingdom of Morocco is a key transit route for migrants from sub-Saharan Africa attempting to reach the European Union, in particular Spain. Migrants often use the Strait of Gibraltar, which at its narrowest point separates Europe from the African continent by only 14 kilometers.
The situation is particularly dire at the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta, which share a land border with Morocco on the African continent.
Morocco receives aid money from the EU to stop migrants from reaching European soil. It is also known for returning migrants it intercepts back to sub-Saharan countries. NGOs, including Amnesty International, have criticized Morocco's handling of migrants and refugees, with some accusing the country of violating human rights.
Fewer migrants try to reach Spain
The number of migrants who tried to reach the Spanish coast via the western Mediterranean, meanwhile, fell by more than half during the first eight months of this year compared with the same period in 2019.
That's according to EU external border and coast guard agency Frontex, which reported a total of 8,200 migrants who made the irregular sea crossing from January through August. Algerian nationals accounted for nearly two-thirds of them, followed by Moroccans.
Last year, Moroccan law enforcement officials said they stopped around 74,000 irregular crossing attempts to Spain. In June, Morocco's navy intercepted nearly 100 migrants on several makeshift boats in the Mediterranean who were reportedly traveling toward Spain.