Morocco’s delayed response to address repatriation requests from its stranded nationals abroad is now the focus of both local and international media.
Rabat – Morocco’s government is facing criticism not only from some local press but also from international media due to the lack of an immediate response to the case of Moroccans stranded abroad.
In recent months, the country received applause for its efforts to tackle its internal crisis due the COVID-19 pandemic. The laudable endeavours to mitigate the impact of the crisis, however, did not allow the country to fully escape criticism.
Spanish news agency EFE reported on Tuesday that Morocco made efforts to facilitate the return of foreign tourists stranded in the country, while lacking an immediate response to the requests of thousands of stranded Moroccans in distress. The Moroccan government estimated 27,850 nationals are stuck abroad, away from their families due to closed borders, as of May 7.
The Spanish news outlet quoted diplomatic sources who said that as of May 12, Morocco had helped 84,449 stranded tourists to return home through the provision of 532 special flights.
The repatriation flights came in response to the requests of thousands of foreign tourists, while calls from thousands of Moroccans stranded abroad in reportedly dire conditions appear to have gone unanswered.
Examining Morocco’s reasoning
Head of Government Saad Eddine El Othmani acknowledged the worrying situation of Moroccans stranded abroad , but he failed to reassure the public about the government’s intention to repatriate the citizens—at least not until the country’s borders reopen.
El Othmani and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have stressed that the repatriation of Moroccans will require rigorous planning to avoid risking the further spread of the virus.
It is still unclear when the country will reopen borders, which have been closed since mid-March. The country has still not brought the infection rate under control, which makes the possibility of ending the country’s lockdown on May 20, as scheduled, an unlikely guarantee.
Morocco extended the state of emergency for an additional month, from an April 20 to a May 20 end date, on April 18.
Morocco’s preventive measures have allowed the country to protect Moroccans and keep its infection rate relatively low. The North African country confirmed a total of 6,512 cases as of May 13, including 188 deaths and 3,131 recoveries. Morocco’s fatality rate stands at 2.9%, with a recovery rate of 48.1%.
In contrast, Spain has reported 271,095 cases as of May 13, with a fatality rate of 10% and a recovery rate of 68%.
Immediate response to requests of foreign tourists
EFE said Morocco made available a series of repatriation flights to help foreign stranded tourists go back home through two airports: Casablanca Mohammed V Airport and Marrakech’s Menara Airport.
Sources told EFE that flights continue to depart from Casablanca’s airport at a sustained rate.
“The flights, despite their exceptional nature, leave ‘practically every day,’” the sources claimed.
France has secured the highest number of repatriation flights from Morocco, according to EFE.
French flag carrier Air France managed to organize 160 flights to repatriate 29,000 French nationals from Morocco.
The UK managed to secure 55 flights transporting 9,000 stranded tourists, 80% of whom were British nationals. The flights also repatriated Australians and other foreign citizens.
The US repatriated 2,000 of its own through 13 flights, while Canada organized three flights to repatriate 1,300 nationals.
Other countries that repatriated their compatriots from Morocco include Russia (463 individuals), Kuwait (400), Spain (360), Turkey (277), Brazil (203), Tunisia (157), Egypt (98), UAE (57), and Qatar (80).
According to EFE, Germany and Belgium also managed to repatriate their compatriots, despite the outlet’s lack of data.
“All these flights have been negotiated one by one with the Moroccan Foreign Ministry, which has made it a condition that these so-called ‘humanitarian planes’ arrive empty in Morocco as a health precaution,” EFE reported.
The news outlet explained that Morocco arranged other departures through ferries from the Tangier Med Port to the ports of Sete in France and Genoa in Italy.
“The borders with Ceuta and Melilla also opened exceptionally in the last days of March and allowed the departure [of] 9,500 Spaniards and several dozen other nationalities,” the Spanish news outlet explained.
Stranded Moroccans call for action
With all its efforts to assist foreign tourists stranded in Morocco, the government surprised compatriots stranded abroad by maintaining closed borders, EFE argued.
“There are Moroccans stranded in Ukraine, the Dominican Republic, Senegal, Turkey, Spain or the United States, and their number seems to be constantly growing.”
The Spanish news outlet recalled that Moroccan embassies abroad have assisted some of the most vulnerable by paying for accommodations or food supplies and sometimes providing cash.
Moroccans stranded abroad have expressed a desire to return home and their readiness to be placed under quarantine. To make their voices heard, they have created groups on Facebook, WhatsApp, and other social networks to express their concerns.
One of the stranded tourists wrote that he is surprised to see a country that has been seeking to host a sports competition such as the World Cup unable to help a few thousands of Moroccans go back home.
Stranded tourists expressed determination to continue to pressure the government to bring them back home.