Morocco, Spain to bolster cooperation to curb illegal migration

A member of Frontex talks to migrants, intercepted off the coast in the Mediterranean Sea, as they wait to disembark from a rescue boat at the port of Malaga, southern Spain. (Reuters)
Updated 04 September 2019

Morocco, Spain to bolster cooperation to curb illegal migration

  • The 2 countries will work together to counter illegal migration networks, terrorism and organized crime
  • Spain would also cooperate with West African states such as Senegal and Mauritania to curb flows

RABAT: Morocco and Spain pledged on Wednesday to cooperate more closely to curb illegal migration, an issue fueling the growth of far right and populist politics in Europe, following a near halving of migrant arrivals in mainland Spain this year from 2018.
The two countries will work together to counter illegal migration networks, terrorism and organized crime, Spanish Interior minister Grande-Marlaska Gómez told reporters after talks with Moroccan counterpart Abdelouafi Laftit.
Recent years have seen hundreds of thousands of migrants a year attempting the journey to Europe from North Africa, with thousands dying at sea.
Tougher enforcement has brought the numbers down, but attitudes to the migrants have become one of the main faultlines in European politics, driving the rise of parties who want tougher policies.
The Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on Morocco’s northern coast are a magnet for Africans trying to reach Europe in search of a better life. The enclaves are surrounded by a 6-meter-high fence topped with razor wire.
Grande Marlaska said Spain would remove razors from the fence surrounding the two enclaves while increasing the height of the fence to curb crossings.
There has been a 45% drop in migrant arrivals in mainland Spain so far this year, Grande-Marlaska Gómez said, but he added Spain’s Canary Islands had seen a 23% rise in arrivals.
Spain would also cooperate with West African states such as Senegal and Mauritania to curb flows, he added.
Figures released by the International Organization for Migration show that 14,969 people arrived in Spain by sea from January 1 to August 28 this year, compared to 28,579 in the same period last year.
Moroccan authorities have stopped 57,000 migrants from illegally crossing to Spain so far in 2019, government spokesman Mustapha El Khalfi said last week.
More than 150 migrants stormed into Ceuta on Aug 30, making it the largest breach of the fence since summer 2018.
The Spanish government last month approved 32.2 million euros in aid to Morocco to counter illegal migration. The Eueopoean Union promised 140 million euros in border management aid to help Morocco curb migration flows.

Religious freedom: Italian govt, Muslim representatives sign memorandum

Muslims hold congregational prayer, as Italy eases some of the lockdown measures put in place during the coronavirus disease outbreak, in Rome. (Reuters/File)
Updated 14 min 37 sec ago

Religious freedom: Italian govt, Muslim representatives sign memorandum

  • New agreement allows for imams to offer spiritual assistance to Muslim inmates in Italian prisons

ROME: An agreement between the Italian government and the Union of Islamic Communities and Organizations in Italy (Italian: Unione delle Comunità e Organizzazioni Islamiche in Italia, UCOII) will allow imams to offer spiritual assistance to Muslim inmates detained in Italian prisons.

The memorandum of understanding follows an agreement signed last month between Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and representatives from Islamic communities in Italy on the reopening of mosques and prayer rooms as part of the country’s ‘Phase 2’ response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis. The agreement is considered by Muslim representatives as a step toward official recognition of Islam as a religion in Italy.

According to the Italian Ministry of Justice, nearly 10,000 of the 60,000 inmates detained in Italian prisons are foreigners, most of whom are from Morocco, Tunisia and Romania. Latest official figures show that 7,200 inmates are observant Muslims, with 97 considered imams as they guide prayers within jails and 44 saying they converted to Islam during their detention.

In only few Italian jails, however, are Muslim inmates provided with spaces dedicated for prayer, which are not sufficient to meet the demand. By contrast, every prison has a Roman Catholic chapel where religious services are regularly held by priests, most of whom are paid by the Italian state.

The memorandum was signed by Department of Penitentiary Administration Chief Judge Bernardo Petralia and UCOII President Yassine Lafram.

“It implements the principle of religious freedom for all citizens established in the Constitution of the Italian Republic, which guarantees prisoners the right to profess their religious faith also while they are in detention. Considering the increasing multiethnicity of the Italian prison population, it is necessary to allow every religion to be professed in a proper way,” a statement from the Italian Ministry of Justice says.

According to the protocol, UCOII will provide prison administration with a list of people who “perform the functions of imam in Italy” and who are “interested in guiding prayers and worship within prisons nationwide.” The list will also specify at which mosque or prayer room each Imam normally performs his worship. Imams will have to indicate their preference for three provinces where they would be willing to lead prayers for inmates.

As no official agreement or law yet regulates in full the relationship between the Italian state and the Islamic communities in the country, the names of Imams on the list will have to be submitted to the Ministry of the Interior so that they may receive official authorization to perform their duties inside prisons.

Lafram said that he was “extremely satisfied” with this agreement with the Italian State.

“With this new protocol, it will be possible to have imams lead prayers in every prison in Italy. This is a sign of the excellent result obtained thus far for a pilot project we have carried out in the past five years in eight Italian prisons,” Lafram said.

Since 2015, some rooms have been made available to Muslim inmates for prayer, but the congregation had nobody to lead prayers or to preach, except during extraordinary times of the year like Ramadan. Due to the COVID-19 emergency, no one from outside was allowed access to prisons in order to prevent the spread infection. As a consequence, no spiritual assistance was available to Muslim inmates even within the few prisons that had a space for prayer and meditation.

“Spiritual assistance to prisoners is necessarily part of the process of reintegration into civil society, as stated in the Constitution of the Italian Republic,” Lafram told Italian news agency ANSA.

"With this agreement, we aim to promote social rehabilitation of the inmate, but also to…avoid any phenomenon of radicalization, which may be triggered by a condition of general resentment towards society," he added.

Lafram expressed his wish that greater attentiveness to the needs of Islamic communities across Italy would eventually lead to formal recognition of the religion in the country. He thanked Minister of Justice Alfonso Bonafede for “showing no prejudices toward the Islamic communities in Italy."

"This is an important step in the context of an ever-greater collaboration between our religious community and the Italian State in the general interest of the country’s welfare,” he said.