Morocco warns Europe about ‘fortress’ mentality on migration

Morocco is under pressure from Spain to halt illegal immigration. (AFP/File)
Updated 03 November 2018
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Morocco warns Europe about ‘fortress’ mentality on migration

  • Morocco has found itself under increasing pressure from its European partners, particularly Spain, to help stem the number of migrants crossing into Spanish enclaves in north Africa

PARIS: Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita has warned Europe against developing a “fortress” mentality to immigration from Africa, while promising his country is doing everything possible to control its borders.

Morocco, which nationals of many African states can visit without visas, has become a major gateway for sub-Saharan migrants into Europe, with 47,000 entering Spain from the north African coast in 2018, four times the number for the whole of last year.

The main reason is changes to smuggling routes favored by human traffickers, who have switched their operations progressively from Turkey or Libya to Morocco over the last three years.

In an interview with AFP, Bourita urged European politicians not to stoke fears about immigration and understand the problems of the poor countries where many migrants originate, as well as transit nations like Morocco.

“For as long as Europe chooses a security approach, that will favor illegal migration. If Europe turns itself into a fortress, there will be new ways of getting round the controls,” he said.

The EU has put forward a migration strategy that includes increased development aid to tackle poverty in Africa, but anti-immigration, far-right politicians promising to seal borders are gaining ground continent-wide.

Italy’s new populist government, which includes figures from the far-right League party, has taken the lead in promising mass expulsions and a new hard line on arrivals.

“There’s no longer a cool-headed discussion to find solutions. People try to exploit the issue for gains elsewhere,” Bourita said in a telephone interview.

Morocco has found itself under increasing pressure from its European partners, particularly Spain, to help stem the number of migrants crossing into Spanish enclaves in north Africa or crossing the Mediterranean. It has also faced criticism for either doing too little to crack down on human traffickers, or for the methods used to move sub-Saharan Africans away from its northern coast.

“All the pressure shouldn’t be on transit countries, that European countries say from their own comfortable positions ‘you are mistreating migrants’ or ‘you are too slack, it’s a problem’,” Bourita said. 

“Everyone has a responsibility.”

The European Union agreed to an extra $62 million in funding for Moroccan and Tunisia border controls in August, while further aid is reportedly under discussion.

Some analysts believe the kingdom is using its leverage with Europe behind closed doors.

This could see it demand more money for security and economic development, or by using the issue in other diplomatic negotiations such as over the status of the disputed Western Sahara region, or fishing and agricultural deals with the EU.

Increased arrivals from Morocco “may have been part of a Moroccan strategy to heighten the EU’s awareness of its importance as a migration partner, with a similar aim of potentially increasing financial aid,” analyst Chloe Teevan at the European Council on Foreign Relations wrote last month.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has openly used this strategy, warning Europe repeatedly that he would open the gates and allow millions of refugees and migrants to start crossing the Mediterranean again.

The EU signed a controversial — but effective — deal with Turkey in 2016 tied to aid of €3 billion to stop the flow of migrants. It has also negotiated with Libya and Egypt, other countries with poor human rights records, with the same goal.

Bourita denied that Morocco was asking for anything in return for its cooperation with the EU, saying it was acting in its own national interest and to show goodwill toward its European partners.

“There is an offer from Europe to help us in our efforts and Morocco has taken note of this, but Morocco is not there to negotiate anything,” he said, declining to talk about the amount of additional aid being discussed.

Moroccan authorities say 54,000 attempts by migrants to cross to Europe were foiled between January and the end of August.

“Things are going in the right direction,” he said. “There are real results.”


Deadly attack on US forces leaves Syria town fearful for future

The residents of Manbij fear more Daesh attacks. (AFP)
Updated 24 min 22 sec ago
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Deadly attack on US forces leaves Syria town fearful for future

  • “We come to the market but we are afraid. We go to work and we are afraid... we don’t know what could happen,” says resident
  • The four Americans killed in the blast were two soldiers, a civilian defense department employee and a Pentagon subcontractor.

MANBIJ: Charred walls, shattered windows, uncooked kebabs still on the counter — the blast that hit US forces at this small restaurant in northern Syria has left residents fearful for the future.

Wednesday’s suicide bombing, claimed by Daesh, was the deadliest to hit US troops since they deployed to Syria in 2014.

Nineteen people, including four Americans, were killed in the attack on the grill house in the central market of the flashpoint northern town of Manbij.

“We come to the market but we are afraid. We go to work and we are afraid... we don’t know what could happen,” says Jomaa Al-Qassem, eyeing the shops from his car along with his three-year-old son.

In front of the blackened storefront, armed security forces hustle curious onlookers away and are quick to prevent them from taking photos with their cellphones.

Behind its twisted metal exterior, a clump of raw red meat lies abandoned on a counter, covered with dust. Tables and cookware from the kitchen have been twisted into a tangled mess on the floor.

Run by a Washington-backed town council since the US-led coalition and its ground partners pushed out militants in 2016, Manbij has been a realm of relative quiet. 

The town was considered sufficiently secure that a group of top US military commanders and lawmakers strolled through the same market place without body armor during a tour of the area last summer.

Next to the blast site, Abu Abdel Rahman lifts an armful of red teddy bears out of his storefront display, carefully avoiding the shattered glass.

Just meters away from the restaurant, his shop was also hit by the blast.

But the US military presence in the town has been thrown into question after President Donald Trump’s shock announcement last month that he would pull all American troops from Syria, claiming the Daesh had been “largely defeated.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a longtime Trump supporter who was among this summer’s visitors, has been one of the most vocal critics of the president’s decision and was in Ankara for talks with top officials on Friday.

“I was at the door of my shop and saw a fireball come out of the restaurant. Then, there were body parts on the ground,” he told AFP, a red keffiyeh headscarf wrapped around his face to help fend off the cold winter air.

The four Americans killed in the blast were two soldiers, a civilian defense department employee and a Pentagon subcontractor.

The US Defense Department has previously reported only two American personnel killed in combat in Syria, in separate incidents.

The attack came as tensions between Washington’s Syrian Kurdish ground partner and its NATO ally Turkey flare.

Ankara views the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) as a “terrorist offshoot” of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a deadly insurgency for self-rule in southeastern Turkey since 1984.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened an all-out offensive to clear the group from its border.

At the town’s entrance, security checkpoints manned by forces of the US-backed Manbij Military Council meticulously check vehicles and the IDs of people entering and exiting the town. Regular patrols move through the streets.

But for Malek Al-Hassan, it is not enough.

The 45-year-old was in the market that day to buy books for his children.

“When the explosion happened, I don’t know how we managed to escape,” he says.

“We hope the forces will be more vigilant at the roadblocks, and that they will work hard to prevent these infiltrators from committing these acts of sabotage,” he says.

After sweeping across swathes of Syria and Iraq in 2014, the militants’ cross-border “caliphate” has been erased by multiple offensives and is now confined to a tiny embattled enclave in eastern Syria close to the Iraqi border.

But despite the stinging defeats, Daesh has proved it is still capable of carrying out deadly attacks using hideouts in the sprawling desert or sleeper cells in the towns.

One day after the blast, Naassan Dandan’s eyes well up with tears when he remembers the attack.

“I was outside when the explosion happened and was thrown to the ground,” says the man in his 40s, still clearing shards of glass from his nearby photography studio.

On the walls of his shop, child portraits he has taken throughout his career are covered in black dust.

“I saw the bodies — the dead and the wounded,” he says, as two young passers-by stop to lend a hand with the clean up.