Marrakech – For decades, Morocco has been a gateway for sub-Saharan migrants to Spain. The country’s location at the crossroads between Africa and Europe makes it an important thoroughfare for global trade as well as migration.
However, not all migrants make it to the northern side of the Mediterranean due to strict control over Gibraltar and other passageways to Spain, Morocco’s northern neighbor.
On September 10th, 2013, King Mohamed VI held a meeting with Minister of Interior Mhand El Anssar and some human rights stakeholders to initiate a new migration and asylum policy and asylum for foreign residents in the kingdom, especially illegal migrants. The decision is regarded as a turning point in Morocco’s view towards human rights for illegal residents, mainly sub-Saharan migrants who are originally from countries like Mali, Senegal, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Guinea.
According to the Ministry of Interior, there are an estimated thirty thousand illegal migrants in the Moroccan territories, and the number is subject to increase in the coming years. The new policy came in response to a report drafted by the National Council of Human Rights. The report stresses the need to adopt new mechanisms for dealing with illegal foreign residents that respect United Nations agreements and global treaties. The same report outlined inhumane treatment towards these illegal migrants, including racism and aggression and the absence of basic civil rights such as housing, health insurance, and education.
The recent decision received praise and encouragement at both the national and international levels. Speaker of the House of Advisors, Mohamed Cheikh Biadillah, talked about the initiative at the 130th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in Geneva, and stated that it constitutes a unique approach for the southern Mediterranean. Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Garcia-Margallo applauded Morocco’s exceptional efforts in fighting illegal immigration through the new policy.
Diplomatic advantages and prospective challenges
Morocco is expected to gain important political privileges through this new policy, especially in terms of diplomatic cooperation with the home countries of such migrants. The new initiative is part of Morocco’s foreign policy with other African countries, addressing the need to foster “South-South” cooperation as an alternative strategy for the future of all Africa. Europe’s financial crisis has been persuasive enough to push Morocco towards the emerging and ambitious sub-Saharan Africa, and the kingdom is considered by many African states a model of political stability, while Europe has witnessed instability in terms of migration policy.
It is evident that Morocco is trying to play the role of a recipient of migrants, rather than a crossing point to the northern Mediterranean. However, the new migration policy faces several questions and social problems. For instance, issuing migration cards to illegal residents will not help resolve their problems, but will motivate them to ask for basic rights which a big proportion of Moroccan nationals themselves lack. Marriage and the legitimacy of children is another issue to be considered. Many of those who are granted “migration cards “ will be able to live permanently in Morocco and not commit to going back home.
The winner in Morocco’s new migration policy is indeed Europe
For the past decade, countries like Spain, France, and Italy have been traditional destinations for illegal immigrants. Morocco, alongside Spain, put forth unprecedented effort to control its borders against the flow of illegal sub-Saharan migrants dreaming of Europe. The new measures serve Europe well by reducing the number of new illegal migrants entering Spain by its southern shores, and now they are able to stay and live permanently in Morocco.
By “locking” sub-Saharan residents in Morocco under the new law, the EU feels relieved, as several Spanish and French officials expressed. Therefore, Morocco has to take proactive solutions to overcome potential problems with new “migration card” holders.
The Syrian refugee question
The Syrian crisis has pushed many people to seek out stability and escape from the damaging war. According to UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Morocco, there are around 900 Syrian refugees asking to register in the commissioner’s local branch, yet no official data is given about the exact number. Most of them were discharged by the Algerian authorities for being illegal refugees, and are seeking asylum while asking for charity in public places.
Although they were welcomed by Morocco, some of Syrian refugees were accused of “causing disruption to mosques and the faithful” in several towns, behaving unethically and saying things that shouldn’t be said in sacred places. Therefore, the state threatened to expel them from the kingdom. However, Morocco is working to integrate them alongside the sub-Saharan migrants.
Morocco’s new migration policy is an attempt to create a positive image about the country abroad, especially in terms of human rights protection and respect for global asylum treaties. However, if Morocco is to win more than lose, it should establish political measures from which the people can benefit and not wait for the appreciation of global powers. Immigration and migration are two distinctive but relatively close concepts, but it seems that Morocco succeeded in ending the first (immigration), while striving to resolve the second (migration). Both terms should be treated under a policy which commits to ensure the equality, liberty and dignity of all foreign residents.
Edited by Jessica Rohan
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
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