September 30, 2005
Illegal Immigration - Borders & Madness: Mass Attempts at the Spanish-Moroccan border
Recently The Father of Aardvarks made a comment on some recent apparent censorship in Morocco with regards to press comments about illegal immigrants in Morocco attempting to reach Europe. Or as the Father of Aardvarks put it:
Here's a story of an Arab government clamping down on the media with an unusual twist. Al-Jazeera reports that the Moroccan government confiscated the press run of a local newspaper because it ran a "racist" and "inflammatory" article about African immigrants "invading northern Morocco."
While I understand the Father of Aardvarks is a media critic by interest and trade, my first thought was to the underlying crisis (the second being it would be nice to know which paper; there are some in Morocco I am familiar with which I have no problem suspecting of racist and inflammatory yellow journalism).
This past week saw rather dramatic events underlining precisely the level of bubbling tension on all sides that might well justifiably provoke action by the government: a series of mass assualts by "thousands" of African would be immigrants to Europe on the frontier fences of the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Mellila.
The crisis effectively is a rather large accumulation of sub-Saharan Africans building up in the Moroccan north - in the region called the Rif - along the border areas with the Spanish enclaves. This has been fairly little mentioned in the local press, although one does see time and and again in some areas clots of what are clearly sub-Saharan migrants begging and travelling north. Something most people do not trouble themselves about as Moroccans try to emmigrate in much the same way.
However, in the last few years, Morocco has been under intense pressure from the EU to "do more" with regards to stopping the flow of illegal immigrants to Spain and onwards and has taken stepped up measures to block transits via the Mediterranean and the enclaves.
The result of course, given the effectively open Saharan borders, is a clotting up of people in the Rif region (better known for its general poverty and as being a center of hashish smuggling and Berberism).
This past week things boiled over a bit as the following series of news reports rather make clear:
BBC Reports Series
Spain reinforces enclave borders
(more suprisingly, US coverage)
5 African Migrants Killed in Rush on Spanish Enclave
By Tony Mejias
Friday, September 30, 2005; Page A15
Older BBC Backgrounders:
Before moving on to the abstract issue, I would note that with regards to the Spanish and Moroccan forces somewhat muscular response to the border "charges" and the deaths and the hand-wringing activists whinging: it should be bloody expected. Right or wrong as the immigration laws are from economic or moral perspectives, no State can permit hundreds of people to rush its border at a point it has clearly declared is not to be passed. Further, the various sources rather make it clear the situation was dangerous regardless of police intervention.
I should note that per local reports, the Moroccan authorities are deploying heavier units in the area. I would note further that it would seem to me that these incidents were in part no doubt driven by the impending cold weather. The Rif mountains get quite cold and snowy, and I would expect the sub-Saharan migrants are already feeling the pinch of the evening cold now.
The issue here is multi-sided of course. There is a Moroccan-North African component, in terms of what the North Africans duties are to their European neighbors with respect to preventing third party transits aiming at illegal immigrantion to Europe (not to mention their own nationals own attempts); in terms of their own nationals (whoops double mention); in terms of their own engagements towards their southern neighbors.... and in terms of their own 'hosting' of the sub-Saharan flux passing through countries that are frankly not rich if not absolutely impoverished.
The European component of course contains a rather strong whiff of coercion and I confess I smell rather absolute hypocrisy as well; the Europeans love their prattle about human rights, about being committed to development (and the moderately corrupt nationalist bed feathering "development" projects they fund directly or via EU), but also are unable to coherently resolve this with highly regressive trade policies that strangle their so-called "partners" development (most notoriously the stunningly idiotic, wasteful and corrupting Common Agricultural Policy), their own need for cheap labor on the side, and unresolved issues with regards to race (despite the pious posturing with regards to the United States).
So, there are "packages" of sweetners in this for the governments (all wrapped up in faux development talk, really simply side payments to the North African authorities - or perhaps let us be more honest, the Tunisian and Moroccan authorities as few in their right mind goes trekking through the bloody Algerian wilderness given the propensity of GIA types to whack random people for the sheer sport of it).
On the North African domestic side, one can not fail to mention that the combination of local poverty and unemployment combined with foreign "drifters" (largely young men) and residual racial or racialised prejudices among North Africans has an explosive potential. Especially in the case of the clots of non-Muslim transiting would-be-illegal immigrants with habits and styles rather in dischord with North African mores (as of course European tourists, but they have money, which eases irritation).
While to my knowledge there has never been any incidents as the quasi-race riots that occured in Libya in 2001 (as I recall), large (relatively or perceptually) agglomerations of illegal immigrants living off the land and wandering too and fro competing for work sometimes with the poorest of the poor in Morocco and Tunisia has something of a dangerous angle to it.
There is also, of course, the sub-Saharan component, which is to say the utter basket cases that are most economies in West Africa (the most relevant area in this context) - economies that continue to be basket cases for many reasons, some historical and rooted in colonial rule (although I am deeply sympathetic to the bad sub-strata the colonial period left, I am also of the feeling this excuse is rapidly becoming nothing more than a tattered excuse); some in the structure of global markets that have not been kind to commodity producers - but worse, are discriminatory against agriculture exports and the like from such nations to Europe etc; much in the vampiric and utterly backwards economic-regulatory structures that the international aid supported vampire states impose on their populations (hello Nigeria); and some on just plain bad climactic and environmental luck.
I suppose I should say there is a European component, but rather obviously I have touched on that via the North African component. At least as far as I care to.
For the Maghreb States (which will include Algeria eventually once they convince the various neo-Salafi loons to lay aside their charming habit of massacring the odd traveller for presumed Kafirness, as well as the various Army factions from doing the same, except for some presumed political sin or just for the sport or for some local pretext), the problem is perhaps twofold. At least the immediate problem.
First, there is the European relations component: although I frankly think they should tell the EU to fuck off with regards to wasting their limited resources discouraging some poor bastards who've trecked thousands of kilometers across the Sahara, that's not realistic. The EU is going to use its poorly managed purse strings to reward at least the appearance of cooperation.
Second, there is the domestic component with respect to how the North Africans handle the presence of these migrants - whose numbers appear to be growing. This in conjuction with their own young populations' desire and attempts to flee (one can not drive by the port without noticing some poor desperate local climbing on top of a container to try to slip onto a ship going lord knows where).
Rather clearly, the underlying problem is economic. Growth.
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I googled around a bit for some more info on Maghrebi migration patterns and suchlike, and found this interesting document, which covers a lot of ground, including both historical patterns of Moroccan emigration to Europe and the newer phenomenon of Morocco as a transit point:
Initially, this flow from sub-Saharan Africa seemed to be a reaction to political turmoil and civil war affecting countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Côte d'Ivoire. Since 2000, however, migrants tend to come from an increasingly diverse array of origin countries. New origin countries of such transit migrants include Nigeria, Senegal, the Gambia, Liberia, Mali, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Niger, Sudan, the Central African Republic, and Cameroon.
Recently, even migrants from Asian countries, such as India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, have transited through Morocco via the Saharan route. They are mostly flown in from Asia to West-African capitals. From there, they follow the common Saharan trail via Niger and Algeria to Morocco.
Although most migrants consider Morocco a country of transit, an increasing number of migrants who fail to enter Europe prefer to settle in Morocco on a more long-term basis rather than return to their more unstable and substantially poorer home countries. Probably several tens of thousands have settled in cities like Tangiers, Casablanca, and Rabat on a semi-permanent basis, where they sometimes find jobs in the informal service sector, petty trade, and construction. Others try to pursue studies in Morocco.
Yet sub-Saharan migrants face substantial xenophobia and aggressive Moroccan and particularly Spanish border authorities. Since most of them have no legal status, they are vulnerable to social and economic marginalization.
In September 2005, a Moroccan newspaper compared sub-Saharan African migrants to "black locusts" invading northern Morocco. Frequent round-ups have occurred in immigrant neighborhoods and in improvised ad-hoc camps close to the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla and larger cities, and unauthorized migrants are regularly deported to the Algerian border.
Immigration control ranks high on the European Union's (EU) agenda, and, as a result, the EU's relationship with Morocco has endured considerable stress. In particular, the issue of Morocco readmitting undocumented migrants is a pressing but yet unresolved issue in negotiations with the EU.
Yet there is already a high level of bilateral cooperation with the some EU Member States, chiefly with Spain. Since 2004, Morocco and Spain have collaborated in joint naval patrols and readmission of Moroccan and non-Moroccan nationals in return for $390 million in aid.
In 2003, Morocco passed a new law regulating the entry and residence of foreigners. The law includes heavy sanctions against undocumented immigration and human smuggling but largely ignores migrants' rights. According to critics, in passing the new law Morocco is bowing to pressure from the EU, which wishes Morocco to play the role of Europe's "policeman" in North Africa.
Although the Moroccan government is formally complying with MEDA's and the EU's fight against illegal immigration, serious doubts remain about the credibility and effectiveness of these policies. First, on a yearly basis, MEDA aid is equal to only two percent of remittances. Second, besides a certain reluctance to play the role of Europe's policeman and massively expel sub-Saharan immigrants, which might also harm strategic political relations with sub-Saharan countries, Moroccan policymakers claim it is impossible to stop migration as long as the economic and political root causes persist.
Although the number of interceptions have dramatically increased in recent years, it is estimated that the majority of migrants reach Spain due to the professionalization of smuggling techniques and a diversification and expansion of migration strategies. Also, sub-Saharan immigrants who are deported to Algeria tend to return within a few days.
... (under "Future Prospects")
Although Moroccan policymakers and the media stress the temporary, transitory character of sub-Saharan migration, an increasing proportion of these officially "temporary" migrants might become permanent settlers. These African migrants to Morocco face substantial xenophobia and social and economic marginalization. At the same time, their presence confronts Moroccan society with an entirely new set of social and legal issues typical for immigration countries, issues that do not yet resonate with Morocco's self-image as an emigration country.
This also seemed interesting, though not directly related to the subsaharan African question:
In recent years, it has become easier, cheaper, and more attractive for Moroccans to remit money because of a government-encouraged expansion of Moroccan bank branches in Europe, the lifting of restrictions on foreign exchange, fiscal measures that favor migrants, and devaluations that increase the value of foreign currency. These measures are in line with the "positive attitude" adopted in the early 1990s.
At first glance, these policies seem to have reversed the stagnation in remittances. Since 2000, there has been a spectacular increase in official remittances, which stood at $3.6 billion in 2003. New labor migration flows to Spain and Italy and those countries' large-scale legalization programs in recent years also help explain the increase.
Morocco has been relatively successful in channeling remittances through official channels. Remittances are a crucial and relatively stable source of foreign exchange and have become vital in sustaining Morocco's balance of payments. In 2002, official remittances represented 6.4 percent of the gross national product (GNP), 22 percent of the total value of imports, and six times the total development aid paid to Morocco. They also exceed the value of direct foreign investments, which are also much more unstable.
The actual amount of remittances is estimated to be at least one-quarter to one-third higher — or about $1 billion — because money is also sent through informal channels or in the form of goods taken to Morocco.
Despite the level of remittances, few migrants seem inclined to start enterprises in Morocco. The Moroccan government, therefore, has tried to attract migrants' investments by offering fiscal incentives, reducing corruption, and removing bureaucratic obstacles to investment, such as easing administrative procedures for obtaining business permits.
There's also a Med-wide survey of migration that's worth a read.
Finally, and outside of the context of this link dump, from what I heard from some people working with migrants in Europe at a conference a couple weeks ago, Libya is now and has for a few years been making itself useful to Europe by accepting a large number of "transiting" African deportees without asking too many questions about whether they in fact had transited through Libya, and are in the process of building a number of large detention camps out in the desert near the Chadian border with Italian help.
Posted by: Tom Scudder at October 1, 2005 04:28 PM