Morocco’s foreign minister said citizens stranded abroad have an indisputable right to return home, but repatriation is not “necessarily appropriate” given the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rabat – Morocco’s government reiterated today the importance of rigorously preparing for the repatriation of Moroccans stranded abroad due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so their return does not pose a threat to public health.
An estimated 27,850 Moroccans are barred from returning home due to restrictions on international travel and border closures. Morocco suspended all flights in and out of the country, shut down maritime links with Europe, and closed its land borders in the first few weeks of March as the novel coronavirus began its rapid spread.
Since the country officially entered a state of emergency on March 20, Morocco has facilitated the return of thousands of foreigners stuck within its borders, but has so far failed to repatriate any Moroccans back home.
Government spokesperson and education minister Said Amzazi stressed “the importance of ensuring the necessary conditions for their return” during a press briefing after a virtual meeting of the government council today, May 7.
The government is closely monitoring the situation of its stranded compatriots, he said, adding that the government council expressed satisfaction with the efforts of Morocco’s diplomatic representations abroad to accommodate and support 5,704 of its stranded nationals.
“The return of Moroccans stranded abroad must take into account the evolution of the spread of the virus, within the framework of the overall approach adopted by the kingdom to face this pandemic, so that this return does not constitute a risk either for these people or for their country,” Amzazi said.
Morocco has faced harsh criticism for its delay in facilitating the return of Moroccans abroad, and stranded nationals have pleaded with the government, asking for efforts to repatriate them. Since evacuating Moroccan students from Wuhan, China in early February, Morocco has yet to execute similar repatriation operations.
On April 23, Morocco’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita announced that the country is planning to repatriate all citizens stranded abroad, but did not specify when such returns will take place.
He firmly stated that repatriation must take place in the best conditions without putting the health of the country or the repatriated citizens at risk. The operation needs rigorous planning, based on meticulous criteria, and in coordination with several government departments, he added.
Bourita explained to state media Maghreb Arab Press (MAP) that Moroccans’ right to return home is natural and indisputable, but “what is obvious is not necessarily appropriate in this exceptional context.”
Head of Government Saad Eddine El Othmani reiterated Bourita’s caution during a press conference this evening on the development of the COVID-19 situation, underlining that “there will be a solution” for Moroccans stranded abroad once the country opens its borders.
Despite the mobilization of consulates and embassies to support stranded Moroccans, many have taken to social media to stress that repatriation is the only solution to their plight.
“We cannot stand this anymore. We ask for our immediate repatriation. They can put us in quarantine. We are ready for all measures, just get us back home,” said one Moroccan woman stranded in France.
With the #bring_us_home campaign, Moroccans are pleading for the government to expedite the repatriation process: “Morocco forgot about us, but we did not. Bring us home, please.”