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Morocco: Gatekeeper of EU-migration

The majority were arrested near Morocco’s western coastline, the army stated. From there, the Spanish Canary Islands are only around 100 km away.

Morocco: Gatekeeper of EU-migration

Morocco is taking its role as gatekeeper of migration toward Europe increasingly seriously. According to a recent statement by the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces, around 87,000 migrants were stopped in 2023, a steep increase compared to around 56,000 between January and August 2022.

The majority were arrested near Morocco’s western coastline, the army stated. From there, the Spanish Canary Islands are only around 100 km away. Between January and November 2023, however, 56,852 people also arrived on the Canary Islands via that route. This marks a record increase of 82% compared to 2022, according to a recent statement by the European Council.

However, not all of the arrivals depart from Morocco. Many board small vessels or inflatable boats along the west coast of Africa.

In 2023, a record number of people also drowned in the Atlantic Ocean. According to the Spanish non-profit organisation Caminando Fronteras, most of the 6,618 deaths — more than double the previous year’s number — occurred between Morocco and the Canary Islands. “There are many reasons why the ‘Western route’ is increasingly being used, above all, because the other routes are even more dangerous,” Sonja Hegasy, vice director of the German research center Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient, told DW.

Conditions in Libya are much harsher, for instance, as aspiring migrants are brutally pushed back and locked up in inhumane prisons. Other North African countries are not known for their soft handling of migrants either, Hegasy added.

In the future, Morocco’s role as a European migration gatekeeper is likely to intensify. After no less than seven years of negotiations, Morocco and the EU finally agreed on a migration pact in December 2023.

Hans Leijtens, executive director of Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, promptly paid a visit to Rabat to strengthen dialogue and cooperation with Morocco’s border management authorities.

“Morocco stands out as a crucial partner in Africa,” Leijtens said in a statement. “It is important to stress that while the migration pact has been agreed upon, we’re very far from the pact being implemented,” Camille Le Coz, associate director at the Migration Policy Institute Europe, told DW.

“It is a political agreement that will mobilise EU budgets and staff to set up the infrastructure so that the migration pact will become reality in a few years,” Le Coz explained.

“The equation is that the EU supports Morocco’s territorial claim, and Morocco supports Europe’s refugee policy,” Sonja Hegasy told DW. Meanwhile, Moroccan commitment was already being tested in early January 2024.

On New Year’s Eve, the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces intercepted and arrested around 1,100 Moroccans, Algerians, Tunisians, Yemenis and people from sub-Saharan countries en route to the Canary Islands, as well as to Spain’s North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.

These two Spanish territories on the northern Moroccan coast are the European Union’s only land borders on the African continent.

For Morocco, “migration has been a classic pressure card in its negotiations with the European Union,” Sarah Zaaimi, deputy director for communications at the Washington-based think tank Atlantic Council, told DW.

DW Bureau
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