The Moroccan navy provided assistance to 120 migrants over the weekend. The migrants were picked up from several different boats by the coast guard operating in both the Mediterranean and Atlantic waters.
The 120 migrants, including two children, were picked up after their boats got into difficulty on February 12 and 13, a military source told the Moroccan news agency MAP. Most of the migrants were reportedly men from sub-Saharan Africa.
"The rescued people received first aid on board the units of the Royal Navy, before being transported to the nearest ports of the Kingdom and then handed over to the Royal Gendarmerie for the usual administrative procedures," the source told MAP.
It was not clear what happened to them next. However, in the past Morocco has been criticized for moving migrants from the coastal north of the country to the south, and further away from European borders.
Morocco has increasingly been a transit country for Moroccan and sub-Saharan African migrants who hope to make it to Europe. The most popular routes used to be across the Mediterranean to nearby Spain and Portugal. However, more and more migrants are now leaving Morocco from the west coast, hoping to reach the Spanish Canary Islands, a few hundred kilometers away at their closest point.
More than 12,000 blocked from leaving in 2021
In 2021, Moroccan police said they had arrested "more than 12,000" people trying to leave the country using "irregular forms of migration." They also claimed to have dismantled "more than 150 smuggling networks."
According to the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR's December 2021 report on the country, Morocco had 18,248 refugees and asylum seekers registered by UNHCR, from more than 48 countries. UNHCR supports an emergency shelter and protection program for refugees and asylum seekers in need. However, in 2021, just 75 refugees and asylum seekers and six babies were hosted by the program.
The majority of registered refugees and asylum seekers come from Syria, reported UNHCR. Just over 1,000 of them are from Yemen, with almost 1,000 from the Central African Republic, almost 1,500 from Ivory Coast, and over 2,600 from Guinea.
EU funding for migration management
The EU states that it has mobilized around €1 billion since 2014 to support Morocco and its National Strategy on Immigration and Asylum (NSIA). The European Commission and individual European countries like Spain and Italy regularly meet with Moroccan counterparts, and the country also benefits from the EU's Emergency Trust Fund for Africa.
Despite the millions invested in various projects and funds, according to an EU fact sheet from May 2021, just 1,400 migrants had received protection, pre-departure and reintegration assistance. 19 institutions and non-state actors were supported on protection and migration management. 7,600 migrants, refugees and asylum seekers were informed about their rights to access health services and 92 law teachers and students received training on asylum law.
According to the Global Detention Project’s August 2021 report on Morocco, the country is being increasingly criticized over its treatment of asylum seekers. According to GDP, asylum seekers in the country "can face severe obstacles in accessing protection procedures."
Morocco criticized for treatment of migrants
GDP also accused Moroccan authorities of harboring "deep-seated xenophobia and anti-Black racism," which had become evident in "raids and mass forced removals targeting sub-Saharan migrants."
The Geneva-based non-profit organization GDP, which is the world’s largest organization researching detention of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, noted that Morocco had become an important focal point in European efforts to externalize "migration management."
GDP said that Moroccan authorities were "under pressure to block migration flows, with generous funding from Europe." Since 2019, increased cooperation between Spain and Morocco had resulted in more Moroccan navy patrols and increasing interception of migrant boats.
According to GDP, the increasing collaboration between Europe and Morocco was "increasing the vulnerability of migrants to a range of human rights abuses, […] encouraging forced displacements and spurring new forms of ad hoc detention situations."
Forced relocations from coastal northern Morocco to the south of the country was also noted by the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism in 2019 after her visit to the country, notes GDP.