SEATTLE — The European Union (EU) is spending billions of euros to keep refugees from crossing the border from Morocco into Europe, despite Morocco’s history of abusing refugees. Ahead are 10 facts about refugees in Morocco.
Morocco has historically been one of the safest crossings for refugees wishing to escape their dangerous homelands in locations such as sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East for the relative safety and prosperity of the states that make up the EU.
However, with the rise of the Syrian refugee crisis that began in 2011, European countries, especially Germany and Spain, have been working to make it as difficult as possible for refugees who are in transit to cross the border from Morocco into the European Union. The result is that while many Syrian refugees are allowed to seek asylum in Europe, hundreds of thousands of refugees from other war-torn or despotic countries have become trapped in Morocco, which leaves them to be victimized by a wide range of abuses committed by Moroccan authorities and private citizens.
Ten Facts About Refugees in Morocco
- For much of its history, crossing Morocco into Spain was one of the safest ways for refugees from sub-Saharan Africa to safely enter the EU.
- While there is no way to be sure how many illegal and undocumented African immigrants are in Morocco it is estimated that the number exceeds 100,000.
- These refugees are now trapped in Morocco as the EU has spent billions of euros on high-tech fences and heat-seeking cameras to make it very difficult for the refugees to cross the border. Despite the EU’s efforts, many refugees are still trying to circumvent these safeguards and are frequently injured for their efforts.
- This trend was exacerbated by a January 2016 declaration by Germany that Morocco, along with Algeria and Tunisia is a “safe country of origin.” This means that Germany will no longer accept asylum seekers who are attempting to leave these regions.
- The EU has scaled up its efforts to keep refugees in Morocco from leaving, despite a 2014 report from Human Rights Watch revealing that it is common for Moroccan security forces to beat African refugees, burn their improvised shelters, deport refugees without the benefit of a trial and otherwise abuse and even steal from sub-Saharan migrants.
- In addition to these problems, because black Africans are so uncommon in Moroccan society, African refugees are frequently the targets of racism and social prejudice. Police have been accused of mass arrests, and there are reports stating that black refugees are often blocked from finding homes and employment because of racial prejudice against them,
- Some progress has been made in trying to undo these trends. In 2014, the same year the Human Rights Watch report was released, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI introduced reforms that so far have allowed up to 20,000 African refugees to legally settle in Morocco.
- 2014 was also the year that Morocco became one of the safest crossings for Syrian refugees attempting to make their way to the European Union. As of August 2015 the UNHCR registered 1,763 Syrians living in Morocco, but the actual number is expected to be much higher and has increased over the course of 2016.
- One of the most common border crossings is for Syrian refugees to use the Algerian border to enter Morocco. The border is closed for legal purposes. However, it is porous enough that Syrian refugees are frequently able to successfully cross it and gain access to the country.
- In February 2016 Germany and Morocco reached another joint decision regarding refugees. In this agreement, Morocco will repatriate anyone leaving Morocco for Germany who is determined as falsely claiming to be a Syrian refugee. According to the German Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), around 10,000 Moroccans entered the country in 2015, of whom only 3.7 percent were granted asylum.
In addition to these issues surrounding the challenges facing refugees in Morocco, concerns have also been raised by Moroccan authority’s decision to expel both journalists and United Nations representatives from Western Sahara, a region Morocco has occupied since 1975. This decision has led Amnesty International to release a statement expressing concerns that a lack of human rights monitoring might lead to new abuses by Moroccan authorities.
– John Myers