Morocco border clampdown thwarts Europe-bound migrants

Migrants in queue during a drive to regularize illegal migrants living in Morocco. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 08 February 2020

Morocco border clampdown thwarts Europe-bound migrants

FNIDEQ/MOROCCO: Mustapha left his home in Guinea two years ago to make the arduous journey to Morocco, hoping to cross the fence separating the kingdom from the Spanish enclave of Ceuta.

“We’re going to cross this barrier,” he told AFP, in defiance of increasing pressure on migrants from Moroccan authorities, supported by Europe.

A few months ago, migrants like Mustapha were a common sight on roadsides or in camps near urban centers.

Today, those aiming to reach Europe from Morocco prefer to stay hidden, fearing the waves of arrests that have elicited condemnation from NGOs.

In recent months, European pressure to shore up borders — bolstered by funding — has pushed Morocco to clamp down on migration.

Two years after leaving Guinea, Mustapha, now 18, lives in abject poverty in a hideout in the Belyounech forest, a few kilometers from Ceuta on Morocco’s northern coast.

Cautiously, he ventures out to beg at the side of a road for a few coins, water or food, but it is rare that passing cars pay him any attention.

“My dream is to go live in Norway and be a DJ,” said the young man, wearing worn-out shoes and a black beanie, a colorful school satchel over his shoulder.

“I dropped out of high school for this trip.”

Traveling with two companions from the same neighborhood back home, Ahmed and Omar, both 17, Mustapha took a perilous journey from Conakry, traversing Mali and Algeria, before crossing the closed border to enter Morocco.

“That part was not easy,” he said.

To reach Ceuta, the trio needs to cross the barbed wire barrier which, along with the fence around the other Spanish enclave of Melilla, mark the only land borders between Africa and Europe.

The fence cuts across fields and forests, and Moroccan auxiliary force vehicles are posted along the border.

Like Mustapha, many migrants live in precarious encampments deep within forests, keeping out of sight.

Local aid groups are no longer authorized to meet with them, according to testimony gathered by AFP.

In Nador, a town bordering Melilla, the Moroccan Association of Human Rights has condemned “serious and repeated violations,” with migrants “illegally detained in very difficult conditions” and “deportations” to regions far from transit routes.

“The authorities come into the forest looking for us and, if they find us, they send us back,” Mustapha said.

“They are looking for us today even,” said his companion Omar, but added he was ready to seize “the right opportunity to get across” the fence.

A day later, Moroccan authorities announced they had blocked 400 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa from entering the Spanish enclave in an operation that resulted in injuries to both migrants and security forces.

Migrants who are detained by authorities are sent to southern Morocco by bus or returned by air to their country of origin, according to testimony collected by AFP.

Khalid Zerouali, who is in charge of migration and border monitoring at the interior ministry, told AFP that measures Morocco put in place in 2019 after sustained pressure to tackle “irregular migration” were aimed at trafficking networks.

“Our security measures do not target migrants because, in our view, they are the victims,” he said.

Morocco has led two “regularization” campaigns since 2014, offering residency permits to 50,000 illegal migrants.

According to the EU border security agency, Frontex, Guineans in recent years have been among the largest groups trying to reach Europe via Morocco.

“We decided to leave for a better future. We found nothing to do in Guinea,” Omar said.

Ahmed dreams of being a “professional footballer in Europe.”

“I play midfield. I want to go to Germany, if they let me in,” he said, a striped scarf around his neck to ward off the cold.

Despite the challenges, the boys say they still prefer Morocco to the Libyan route.

“There is violence there. My friends tried to get through and told me it was hard,” Ahmed said.

Like many young people seeking a better future, the trio cling to a romanticized image of life in Europe, though they seem to know little about it.

While they are just a few of the many that try to get through the barriers around Ceuta and Melilla, others attempt to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean in makeshift boats.

“I can’t afford to go by sea, it’s too expensive,” Ahmed said.

In recent months, Moroccan authorities have stemmed the flow of migrants into Europe.

SPEEDREAD

Moroccan authorities blocked 400 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa from entering the Spanish enclave in an operation that resulted in injuries to both migrants and security forces.

According to the Spanish Interior Ministry, nearly 32,500 migrants entered Spain in 2019 by land and sea routes, down by nearly half from 2018.

But the number of migrant drownings in the western Mediterranean remains high: 325 deaths were recorded in the first 10 months of 2019, compared to 678 for the same period in 2018.

Zerouali said last year, “around 74,000 attempts to immigrate irregularly to Spain were blocked by Moroccan law enforcement,” compared to 89,000 in 2018.

In 2019, the EU allocated €140 million ($155.3 million) to support Morocco’s efforts against irregular migration, with Spain also providing additional aid to its southern neighbor.

But even as Morocco works to tackle migration via its territory, it says it will not act as Europe’s police force.


‘Social explosion’ in Lebanese camps imminent, warn officials

Updated 21 February 2020

‘Social explosion’ in Lebanese camps imminent, warn officials

  • Situation volatile as Palestinian refugees face economic crisis after US peace plan

BEIRUT: Authorities are battling to prevent “a social explosion” among Palestinian refugees crammed into camps in Lebanon, a top official has revealed.

Fathi Abu Al-Ardat, secretary of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) factions in Lebanon, told Arab News that urgent measures were being put in place to try and stop the “crisis” situation getting out of control.

“Conditions in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are very difficult due to the economic crisis facing the country, and we are trying to delay a social explosion in the camps and working on stopgap solutions,” he said.

And Dr. Hassan Mneimneh, the head of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC), said: “More Palestinian refugees from the camps in Lebanon are immigrating. Embassies are receiving immigration requests, and Canada is inundated with a wave of immigration because its embassy has opened doors to applications.”

According to a population census conducted in 2017 by the Central Administration of Statistics in Lebanon, in coordination with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), there are 174,422 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon spread across 12 camps and nearby compounds.

Mneimneh insisted the figure was accurate despite the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) estimating there to be 459,292 refugees in the country. He said: “The census we had conducted refers to the current reality in Lebanon.”

He added that he feared “increased pressure on European donor countries over UNRWA in the coming days after the unilateral implementation of the ‘Deal of the Century’ (the US peace plan for the Middle East) by Israel.

“Israel’s goal is to undermine UNRWA’s mission as a prelude to ending the Palestinian cause and, thus, preventing the return of Palestinians.”

Mneimneh held a meeting on Wednesday with two Lebanese and Palestinian action groups in Lebanon to discuss Palestinian asylum issues in light of the American peace plan. There were no representatives of Hezbollah or Hamas present at the talks.

He said: “This deal kick-starts an unusual stage that carries the most serious risks not only to the Palestinian people and cause, but also to the other countries and entities in the Arab region.

“The first of these is Lebanon, which senses the danger of this announcement in view of the clauses it contains to eliminate the Palestinian cause, including the refugee issue and the possibility of their settlement in the host countries.”

Al-Ardat said: “Palestinian refugees have no choice but to withstand the pressures on them to implement the so-called ‘Deal of the Century.’ What is proposed is that we sell our country for promises, delusions, and $50 billion distributed to three countries. Palestine is not for sale.”

He pointed out that “the camps in Lebanon resorted to family solidarity in coordination with the shops in the camps. Whoever does not have money can go to the shop after two (2 p.m.) in the afternoon and get vegetables for free.

“We have been securing 7,000 packs of bread to distribute in the camps and buying the same amount to sell the pack at 500 liras. But this does not solve the problem.”

He added: “The PLO leadership continues to perform its duty toward the refugees and, until now, we have not been affected by the restrictions imposed by banks in Lebanon, and refugees are still receiving medical treatment.

“However, our concern now is that Palestinian refugees do not starve, taking into account all the indications that the situation in Lebanon will not improve soon.

“Twenty percent of the Palestinians in Lebanon receive wages either from UNRWA — as they work there — or from the PLO because they are affiliated with the factions, but 80 percent are unemployed and have no income.”

The meeting hosted by Mneimneh agreed “the categorical rejection of the ‘Deal of the Century’ because it means further erasing the identity existence of the Palestinian people as well as their national rights, especially their right to return and establish their independent state.

“It also means assassinating the Palestinian peoples’ legitimate rights and supporting Israel’s usurpation of international justice and 72 years of Arab struggle.

“The deal includes ambiguous, illegal and immoral approaches that contradict all relevant UN and Security Council resolutions, especially with regard to the establishment of the Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 and the inalienable right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland and establish their state with Jerusalem as its capital,” a statement on the meeting added.

“UNRWA must remain the living international witness to the ongoing suffering and tragedy of the Palestinian people, and UNRWA must continue to receive support.”

Attendees at the talks also recommended “improving the conditions of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to strengthen the elements of their steadfastness until they return.” This was “based on the Unified Lebanese Vision for the Palestinian Refugees Affairs in Lebanon document, which includes the right to work.”