Of the many topics that experts discussed at the conference, one issue seemed to consistently emerge at the forefront of many plenary sessions: Migration.
Rabat – The urgent challenge of migration sparked dozens of dynamic discussions among current and former high-ranking government officials at the eighth annual Atlantic Dialogues conference in Marrakech from December 12 to 14.
The UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports that 72,263 migrants and refugees have entered Europe by sea in 2019. Migrant deaths from the crossing reached 1,041 during the same period.
The conference invited hundreds of experts from South America, Europe, and Africa to tackle the Atlantic basin’s most pressing challenges, including migration.
‘Morocco is next’
In 2018, Spain received 57,250 irregular migrants who successfully crossed the Mediterranean, an average of nearly 160 arrivals a day.
Ana Palacio, the former minister of foreign affairs of Spain, predicted that Morocco will follow the same path as Spain in the not-so-distant future, becoming a destination for migration.
Speaking to Morocco World News after a plenary session on Thursday, December 12, Palacio noted that Spain was once a transit country for migrants hoping to travel to Germany or Switzerland, but now Spain has become a prime destination for migrants in its own right. Like Spain, Morocco is set to become a popular final destination for migrants, she said.
“Of course, prosperity and making a livelihood [are] key but we have to understand that government remittances [from immigration] are an important part of public revenue,” she added, alluding to the benefits of successfully managing immigration.
“We need to manage,” she declared.
Palacio also commended the bilateral relations between Morocco and Spain on the issue of irregular migration.
“It is true that we need an EU policy on migration, but Morocco and Spain have had a consistent approach and [consistent] policies,” the former minister continued to reporters.
“Neighborhood relations are complex—extremely close, fruitful, but sometimes complex,” she said. Morocco and Spain, however, have maintained “a very good collaboration” in approaching the issue of irregular migration across the Mediterranean.
“Now, what we need is an EU common immigration policy,” Palacio concluded firmly.
Migrants mitigate aging population
Edward Scicluna, Malta’s minister of finance, echoed Palacio’s push for a standardized immigration policy throughout the EU.
While most migrants crossing the Mediterranean end up in Spain or Greece, a significant number—nearly 3,000 in 2019—arrive at the southern European island country of Malta.
“As a small island, we have very big issues—but with other members of the EU who have not yet agreed that migration is good,” Scicluna stated in an interview with MWN.
He went on the describe the benefits of Europe’s growing immigrant community, saying that it compensates for Europe’s aging population.
“But at the moment, there’s no burden-sharing, which is not the right way,” he said. “What the EU has to do is share the migration and manage it properly, because it’s costing a lot of lives.”
“So many young people drown on the way from North Africa to Malta or Europe. It’s a big tragedy and we have to take it seriously,” he argued.
Scicluna added that Malta and other European countries should invest in North Africa, particularly Morocco, which is a gateway to Europe for migrants from sub-Saharan Africa.
He went on to say that the EU also needs to invest in sub-Saharan Africa itself.
“Nobody wants to migrate if they have a job, a house, and clean water. This is basic,” he stated.
“Whoever wants to migrate will [do so] because there are better opportunities [elsewhere].”
Morocco is a model to follow
Scicluna, like Palacio, maintained the EU needs to better manage its immigrant communities and immigration policies.
The Maltese minister went on to commend Morocco’s security model, dubbing it an example for other African countries to follow given the country’s stability.
Regional stability, he continued, is essential for cultivating talented youths throughout the continent.
“Young people give me a lot of hope,” Scicluna said, drawing the conversation back to another key theme of the eighth Atlantic Dialogues conference. “They have a lot of potential, but they need to be given the chance.”
He lamented that some governments are thinking in the past and placing barriers between generations, creating frustration among young people. “This is unacceptable,” he argued.
Scicluna said that youth should be treated the same as older generations.
“Governments have to understand the mentality of young people in order to change the world, to develop their freedoms,” he concluded.
The eighth annual Atlantic Dialogues conference hosted hundreds of senior officials, business leaders, academics, researchers, entrepreneurs, civil servants, and civil society actors to engage in high-level dialogue.
Hosted at La Mamounia Hotel in Marrakech by the Policy Center for the New South (PCNS), a Rabat-based think-tank, the three-day conference focused on promoting leadership, entrepreneurship, and innovative policymaking with a series of informative plenary sessions led by notable experts in various fields.