long way home

Repatriating migrants: Morocco says it is setting an example

By Achraf Tijani

Posted on August 28, 2023 12:08

Migrants repatriated from Dakhla after their boat capsized. Yoff military airport, Dakar, 26 July 2023. SEYLLOU/AFP
Migrants repatriated from Dakhla after their boat capsized. Yoff military airport, Dakar, 26 July 2023. SEYLLOU/AFP

On 23 August, another 325 migrants expelled from Morocco returned home to Senegal. Rabat says the migrants were moved in the best possible conditions.

After a 20-hour bus journey from Dakhla in southern Morocco, 325 Senegalese migrants arrived in Rosso, a town in the north of their home country, on the morning of 23 August. The travellers were picked up by the Royal Moroccan Navy off the Canary Islands at the beginning of August.

This is not the first repatriation operation of the season.

On 27 July, Annette Seck, minister for Senegalese Abroad, thanked Morocco for sending 400 compatriots home. On 10 August, 283 others made the journey. On each occasion, their return was made possible with the cooperation of local authorities.

Senegal is not the only country in sub-Saharan Africa with which Morocco is collaborating on repatriation. In September and October 2020, Mali and Guinea helped to identify their nationals and repatriated them by air.

‘Arbitrary expulsions’

The kingdom has been conducting repatriation campaigns in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) since 2005.

Various associations and NGOs have criticised the way in which the Moroccan authorities proceed, arguing that these are arbitrary expulsions that do not respect legal frameworks.

In 2018 while responding to criticism, Moroccan minister of foreign affairs Nasser Bourita said: “What you call ‘removals’ are carried out according to the proper protocol.”

According to the government, the line is clear and consistent – the removals are intended to break the mafia-like circuits of human trafficking seeking to reach Europe.

“The embassies of African countries are involved in the identification process,” Bourita said.

Legal framework

In 2018, migrants were moved from one town to another to improve their “living conditions” and were the subject of return procedures to their country of origin, said local authorities. This was done in conjunction with their embassies and the IOM.

The president of the National Council of Human Rights (CNDH), Driss el-Yazami, said that the repatriations complied with the legal framework. He added that the CNDH ensures that vulnerable people are protected.

However, the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) denounced the “forced displacements”. Since its 3 August report, the AMDH has not changed its position and continues to criticise the removal of migrants from the northern region “to remote areas in the interior or south of Morocco, or to the Morocco-Algerian border”.

Enter the system

Babou Sène, consul general of Senegal in Dakhla, said: “It’s a well-oiled system. Migrants in need of treatment are taken to hospital, where they are looked after by Morocco, while Senegal pays for the necessary medicine and tests, and provides food for the sick.

“The others [displaced people] are taken in at a reception and accommodation centre until they can return home.”

“Once we have attended to the migrants, I alert our ambassadors in Rabat and Nouakchott so that they can inform the Moroccan authorities of the [large number of] Senegalese and of the need to make arrangements for their welfare here and their return home.”

Repatriation usually takes place by land and a transit permit is then issued by the Mauritanian government.

The consulate issues safe passage for all the Senegalese, Sène said. The Moroccan side takes care of the transport arrangements, providing buses to Rosso and other towns in Senegal.

The Canaries

The consul added that “all the Senegalese involved in the latest repatriation operations were rescued by the Royal Moroccan Navy after being stranded off the African coast”.

The ocean crossing for sub-Saharan migrants to the Canary Islands – a dangerous route, with strong currents – often ends in Dakhla or Laâyoune.

The Canary route is the preferred route for refugees heading for Tunisia or Libya. In mid-April, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez welcomed the reduction in the number of people crossing the Canaries, but at the end of July, Seck told the Senegalese press that it had increased again.

“According to the statistics, in 2022, 404 compatriots were repatriated from Dakhla,” he said. Between April and July 2023, 15 boats were boarded in Moroccan territorial waters, with a total of 1,535 people on board, including 1,237 Senegalese.

Between 1 January 2021 and October 2022, 4,747 migrants who arrived in the kingdom returned to their country of origin via IOM’s voluntary return programme.

In 2022, the number totalled 2,457 migrants, mainly from Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea and Senegal, according to IOM. At the time, 61% said they lacked the financial resources to stay in Morocco.

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