Morocco reports blocking 89,000 migrants from reaching Europe in 2018

Morocco has stopped nearly 89,000 people from irregularly migrating to Europe in 2018, the interior ministry said on 17 January 2019. This marked a 37 per cent rise in people intercepted on route to Europe, as the north African country became the main transit route for Europe-bound migrants and asylum seekers.

About 80 per cent of irregular migrants intercepted in 2018 were non-Moroccans attempting to enter Spain through land and sea routes. Nearly 30,000 were rescued at sea, and over 5,600 of those intercepted opted for voluntary return to their home countries. The Moroccan interior ministry added that 229 trafficking networks were dismantled in 2018.

Morocco has become one of the most popular gateways to Europe since Italy’s hardline stance deterred smugglers and migrants from transiting through Libya. The country also waives most visa requirements for African nationals. While many migrants opt to cross by land, others pay smugglers for a 14km boat journey. Despite the short distance, 744 people died crossing this section of the Mediterranean in 2018, out of the 2,217 total deaths recorded.

To stem the flow of irregular migrants and tackle people smuggling networks, the European Union has promised 140 million euros to Morocco in October 2018. 30 million euros have been transferred so far.

Moroccan police now conduct regular raids of areas popular with migrants from other parts of Africa. According to Reuters, thousands of irregular migrants are picked up in northern Morocco and bused to the southern end of the country. Morocco does not detain asylum seekers and migrants to decide on their cases.

“When we find a paperless Sub-Saharan who is preparing to cross the border illegally we just remove him from the north to other cities,” Khaled Zerouali, migration and border control director at the Moroccan Interior ministry said, speaking to Reuters. “It is better for them to be sent to a city such as Marrakech than stay in the forests surrounding Tangier.”

Spain received the largest number of irregular migrants in Europe in 2018. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 57,000 people completed the journey to Spain across the Mediterranean in 2018.

TMP – 27/01/2019

Photo caption: High security fence between the North African Spanish enclave of Melilla and Morocco.

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