Morocco claims success in slowing migrant voyages to Europe

International
Josep Borrell Nasser Bourita

Spanish foreign minister Josep Borrell, left, and Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs International Cooperation, Nasser Bourita, right, attend a press conference after holding talks during the former’s visit to Rabat, Morocco, Monday, June 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Mosa’ab Elshamy)

RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Morocco is claiming new success in lowering the number of migrant crossings into Europe as the country works with its northern neighbor, Spain, in securing more European funding for curbing migration.

Foreign Affairs Minister Nasser Bourita said the number of crossings dropped 40% compared to the same month last year in the Western Mediterranean route, which last year became the main entry point into Europe.

Departures have dropped significantly since the beginning of 2019, with Rabat claiming that its security forces have dismantled 60 trafficking networks and stopped more than 30,000 crossing attempts.

Authorities refuse to comment on the fate of migrants stopped. In addition to Moroccans or Algerians, great numbers come from poorer sub-Saharan African countries.

Officials have repeatedly said the country can’t be Europe’s migration police, putting pressure on northern neighbors to provide funds to manage the crisis. Spain is reportedly seeking 50 million euros (nearly $56 million) from the EU budget for Rabat, which would be in addition to 130 million euros promised last year.

“We are very satisfied with our partnership with Spain,” Bourita told reporters on Monday, as he stood by Spain’s foreign minister, Josep Borrell, who was on a one-day visit to Morocco.

Borrell said the funds provided to Rabat to date are “insufficient, but more significant than in the past.”

“Morocco helps us. We are not giving the country gifts,” said Borrell, who is one of the candidates to become the EU’s next top diplomat. “It’s a cooperation that enables the two parties find a common interest.”

In a rebuke of what they call Europe’s “outsourcing of border controls,” activists and rights groups have in the past criticized Morocco’s way of treating migrants, who are often arrested and sent to southern cities instead of the north, where Spanish coasts are visible across the Strait of Gibraltar.

An Islamist parliamentarian from the city of Tiznit complained in a letter to Morocco’s Interior Ministry last week about the “negative effects” of the policies on the city.

“These Africans will live for several days in dire humanitarian conditions, before leaving the city and return to the north, repeating the same journey only to return and beg in the streets of Tiznit,” wrote the PJD Islamist party’s Brahim Boughaden.

Since last year, Moroccan authorities have also forcefully returned some migrants to Sub-Saharan countries, according to a May 21 internal EU report seen by The Associated Press.

Morocco denies all accusations of humanitarian violations of migrants’ rights.

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AP journalists Aritz Parra in Madrid and Renata Brito in Barcelona contributed to this report.

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