Morocco steps up crackdown on illegal migration to EU countries

Morocco steps up crackdown on illegal migration to EU countries
10:35 13-10-2018 | icon 28

The Moroccan authorities have redoubled efforts to crack down on illegal migration as the north African country has became a favourite route for migrants dreaming of reaching Europe, Xinhua reported.

With Spain just 9 miles (about 14 km) away, illegal migrants are increasingly using the Morocco's Mediterranean coast to reach Europe.

The UN Migration Agency said a total of 40,598 migrants and refugees had entered Spain by sea by Oct. 10 this year, three times more than Greece and about eight times that of Italy.

Apart from those who entered Spain by sea from Morocco, thousands of others were stopped by Moroccan authorities from reaching Ceuta and Melilla, two Spanish ports in the Moroccan territory, either by sea or land.

The Moroccan government said its security services have thwarted at least 54,000 attempts to smuggle illegal immigrants into Europe in the first eight months of 2018, compared with 39,000 attempts a year earlier.

About 1,900 boats used in illegal migration were seized, and 74 criminal networks active in human trafficking and illegal migration were dismantled, according to the statistics.

In less than a week, the Moroccan navy arrested a total of 1,067 migrants off the country's northern coasts.

The navy said it has been even "forced" twice this month to fire on boats carrying illegal immigrants.

On Sept. 25, a Moroccan naval patrol opened fire on a speed boat driven by Spaniard, killing a 22-year-old Moroccan woman and wounding three others.

On Tuesday, the Moroccan navy opened fire on another boat, wounding a Moroccan teenager.

In addition to foiling migration attempts, the Moroccan authorities have also conducted regular preventative raids in areas where migrants suspected of planning to illegally travel to Spain stay, especially in the northern cities of Tangier and Nador.

As a result of these raids, some migrants have been relocated from Morocco's north to the country's southern part, for fear that they will attempt to sneak into Spain.

The country has also introduced voluntary return programs for the illegal migrants, in coordination with the diplomatic missions of the countries concerned. Official figures showed that some 1,400 migrants have returned to their countries of origin since the beginning of 2018.

Faced with this unprecedented hike in illegal migration attempts, Morocco has repeatedly called for more involvement of the European Union (EU) to tackle the issue.

In July, the EU agreed to spend 55 million euros (63.8 million U.S. dollars) to help Tunisia and Morocco manage their borders.

Asked about this EU move, Mustapha El Khalfi, spokesperson of the Moroccan government, said at a press briefing in August that such support remained far below the efforts and prices paid by Morocco to stop these migrants from reaching EU countries.

A strong cooperation, where the parties have fair share of responsibilities, has become more urgent than ever, the spokesperson said.

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