Mona El Jadaoui, Research & Writer of Nosapo, inc.

Melanie McCarthy, Founder & Executive Director, Nosapo, Inc.



Morocco is a migration hub between Africa and Europe. Moroccan nationals have been massively emigrating to Europe since the French colonization in 1912 and in the years following in response to demands of low-cost labor in European countries. More than 3 million individuals of Moroccan descent (over a population of 30 million people) live in Europe today1. Since the mid-1990s, Morocco has also served as a transit country for Sub- Saharan African migrants,2 and the 2011 Arab Spring has caused an increase in the number of Middle Eastern migrants. Frontex reports more than 10,000 detected illegal border- crossings through Morocco in 20163.

The enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the Moroccan Mediterranean coast are the epicenter of this phenomenon. Remnants of Spanish colonialism in Morocco, these territories are Spanish autonomous cities. As such, they are part of the European Union and the Schengen Area (agreement between several European countries that permits travel among these countries with lack of border controls). This implies it is easy for migrants to attain other European countries once they are inside the Spanish territories.
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     From: “   Migration through Morocco—No way forward or back   ”, The Economist, February 11, 2014

From: “Migration through Morocco—No way forward or back”, The Economist, February 11, 2014

For that reason, Morocco passed several laws to frame migration issues. These initiatives have tended to come more from external pressures imposed by the European Union in the context of the “externalization of borders” policy, than from a national political will. It translated into the European Neighborhood Policy, and Moroccan law n°02-03 (2003), which criminalized irregular emigration, immigration as well as assistance4,5. On the one hand, this has caused Morocco to become a prime partner of the European Union for border control, thus gaining bargaining power against the organization6. Alternatively, these measures are used by Moroccan police officers, as well as the Spanish Guardia Civil, to justify resorting to violence against migrants trying to get across the fences in Ceuta and Melilla7,8.

Morocco’s relationship with Sub-Saharan Africa has recently experienced notable changes. Morocco has been deepening cooperation with Sub-Saharan countries since the 2000s, entailing a growing soft power that led to make Morocco appear as an attractive destination for Sub-Saharan migrants. This attraction is foremost lured by economic ties. Moroccan companies have been developing in large numbers and growing in Africa, especially in the sector of banking9, but also in telecommunications and insurance. On top of this, Morocco’s image has had additional legitimacy in Sub-Saharan Africa because of its religious prerogatives10. Fes in Morocco is the pilgrimage town for the Tijaniyya community, the most widespread current of Islam in Western Africa11. Lastly, Morocco has been hosting an increasing number of Sub-Saharan students12.

Morocco as a migration hub between Africa and Europe and Morocco’s relationship with Sub-Saharan Africa have caused Morocco to become a country of immigration as well as a country of emigration13. In many circumstances, migrants attempting to cross borders to Spanish territory face harsh treatment, which discourages them from trying to reach Europe. Many also do not have the financial capacities to pay human traffickers offering to arrange their passage to Europe14. They are thus left with one solution: settling in Morocco. Also, growing Moroccan soft power in Africa contributes to make Morocco appear as an acceptable destination for sub-Saharan African migrants.

But for lack of a comprehensive asylum and migration policy, Sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco continue to face difficult life conditions as well as challenges integrating into, and prospering in, society. Moroccan emigrants themselves are exposed to abuses along their journey.


The enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla are the location of numerous reported Human Rights violations. For one thing, the proximity of the enclaves with Europe gives rise to unregulated merchandise trade schemes, putting lives at risk for human trafficking as well as labor and health hazards in response to trade expectations and financial needs for individuals. We can cite here the case of “mule women”: women bearing excessive weights of merchandise from Spain to Moroccan markets through the Moroccan-Spanish borders of Melilla and Ceuta. The bundles they bear can go up to 220 pounds (100 kg). The women endure several journeys per day at the cost of their health. Most have no education, which is why this business often represents their only source of income15.

Children and teenagers form an important part of Moroccan migrants. Usually in an attempt to find better economic conditions or join family members living in Europe, hundreds of unaccompanied children cross the Mediterranean sea to join Spain. Scholar M. G. Jiménez- Álvarez states there were approximately 7,700 unaccompanied Moroccan minors living across Europe in 200816. The city of Tangier at the extreme North of Morocco is one of the main points of departure for these migrants. Young males will usually hide in trucks transporting merchandise through the Gibraltar strait, while females are likely to resort to less risky ways of crossing such as the use of false identification. Along with risking their lives in the crossing, these children can face legal and administrative abuses in the destination countries as well. In Spain, many children lack rights to effective legal protection, are denied access to aid, residency permits or schooling, while their access to healthcare is conditional upon their evaluated age based on medical tests17.

Another element giving rise to human rights violations is the formation of anarchic migrant camps. The forest of Gourougou next to Melilla is one of the most important camps of this sort. Migrants who have not been able to pass over the fences to Spanish territory, as well as those waiting for the opportune moment to make an attempt at crossing, regroup in such camps. Moroccan authorities reportedly lead frequent raids in the forest, which usually comprises unlawful imprisonments and serious physical abuses18.

Furthermore, inside the society itself, the treatment of Sub-Saharan migrants is very troublesome. There have been reports of mistreatments of Sub-Saharan individuals from Moroccan citizens. For instance, in the context of a racist tide in Morocco in 2013, a Senegalese man was allegedly murdered for not having given up his seat to a Moroccan man in public transport19.

There are also significant stakes related to the integration of Sub-Saharan migrants in the Moroccan society. In the idea of furthering cooperation with African countries, King Mohammed VI launched a regularization program for undocumented migrants in 201320 that benefitted to approximately 18,000 people (the majority of which were Senegalese, Syrian, Nigerian and Ivorian migrants), with its second phase set to be launched in 2017. However critics have denounced the continuing abuses faced by migrants in spite of the regularization program21.

Although the regularization process gave migrants access to a work permit and primary and secondary education22, it has not impeded them to face difficulties in accessing health care, accommodation and security. Women migrants are especially vulnerable in this context. Moha Ennaji, president of the South-North Center for Intercultural Dialogue and Migration

Studies and director of Morocco’s first PhD program in gender studies, notes there are no women-only shelters for migrants in Morocco. “Women should be protected from rape and human trafficking. We should give them shelters and healthcare support” she states23. This is especially true since most migrants, and women particularly, suffer multiple abuses on their way to Morocco. According to Mohammed Khachani, president of the Moroccan Association for Studies and Research on Migration, one-third of the migrant women living in Morocco were abused on their way to North Africa24.



Algeria and Morocco have both been part of migration routes coming from Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East. Most migrants coming from Sub-Saharan Africa go through Algeria to get to Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian and Libyan shores.

However, the Moroccan-Algerian border has been closed and heavily militarized since 1994. The two countries have been at odds since the end of French colonization in the 1950s-1960s. The issue of defining their common border has been the principal point of friction, each country fearing the other’s irredentism. Many families have been affected by this decision, as they have been separated and forced to resort to illegal ways to rejoin.
But this also causes problems in relation to migration. Political tensions between both countries have shaped political discourse in relation to migration policies.

For instance, in 2003, Moroccan officials have accused Algeria of facilitating the passage of migrants to Moroccan territory, thus justifying the adoption of very restrictive migration policies, which led to increased ill-treatment of irregular migrants in Morocco25.
In addition, there are frequent cases of migrants stranded at the Moroccan-Algerian border, with no access to shelter, health services or food with both countries refusing to allow them in their territory. The most recent case took place in April 2017. A group of Syrian refugee families were deported back to a deserted part of Algeria after having crossed the border to Morocco, in a violation of the non-refoulement principle provided by the Geneva Convention relating to the status of Refugees. Euromed Rights reports this deportation was illegal, as Morocco should have provided the individuals with access to healthcare services, decent reception, and have their situation examined on the basis of asylum law. The report notes the group was not able or willing to claim asylum in Algeria either26. It was stranded between borders for two months before the Moroccan authorities accepted to ensure its protection27.


The Western Sahara dispute has had disastrous consequences on the local population’s living conditions. The territory has been cut in two since the war opposing Moroccan forces to Sahrawi separatists came to an end in 1991. A sand wall (called Berm) has since separated the two sides: the Western part has been administered by the Moroccan authorities, while the Eastern part has been controlled by the movement for independence of Western Sahara, the Polisario Front. The war has forced a number of Sahrawi families into displacement. Some have found refuge east of the Berm, in Algerian territory. The camp of Tindouf, Algeria, is the most important Sahrawi refugee camp, and it also houses the political leadership of the independence movement. It was built in 1975 at the start of the Western Sahara War, and the number of refugees it hosts is disputed for political reasons. Algeria won’t allow a census, and Morocco claims Polisario was inflating numbers in order to attract more humanitarian aid. In its latest estimation in 2007, the UNHCR evaluated the number of refugees to 90,00028.

Human Rights violations occur on both sides of the Berm. In the West, voices of contestation or claim for more democracy and equality are muzzled. Human rights organizations have been denied legal registering and allegations of torture and unfair trials continue to be directed against the Moroccan authorities29. East of the Berm, cases of slavery, forced disappearances and physical abuses by security forces have been reported30, while there continues to be poor education and job prospects for the local refugee youth. Terrible living conditions have been aggravated by a corrupted camps’ leadership. While the European Union provides significant humanitarian aid to the Sahrawi refugee camps, a 2015 European Anti-Fraud Office report explained that aid was diverted on several occasions by both Algeria and Polisario officials. Food aid and basic products intended to the refugees who struggle to access food and health services were allegedly sold on markets in Niger, Mali and Mauritania31.

The violations of human rights of the Sahrawi population have also gone unpunished because Morocco and Algeria have shown reluctance at letting independent organizations monitor human rights in the territories they administer. The United Nations have been prevented from adding a human rights monitoring component to mission MINURSO in the Western Sahara (French for Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara), while Algeria has been refusing to give access to human rights organizations to the refugee camps of Tindouf32.


Migration movements taking place in Morocco have induced severe cases of Human Rights violations. A hesitant management of immigration has caused migrants to suffer numerous administrative, security and rights issues inside Morocco. Although we cannot deny the Moroccan 2013 regularization initiative marks the first national migration policy in the Arab World, the weight of stereotypes and the strong inequalities already prevailing in the Moroccan society have fostered rejection and violence towards migrants. Furthermore, the process of migration intrinsically comprises significant risks to the migrants’ integrity. Whether voluntarily or because of third parties, many Moroccan and non-Moroccan individuals put their lives at risk, sacrificing their rights in the research for better life conditions. Finally, regional political tensions are an impediment to the implementation of inclusive migration policies. Yet, in a continent where emigration is stronger than immigration, and in a region situated between Africa and Europe, the need to coordinate migration policies seems evident.
1 Mohamed Berriane (ed.), Marocains de l’Extérieur 2013, Fondation Hassan II pour les Marocains Résidant à l’Étranger and IOM, 2014

2 Mehdi Lahlou, “Morocco’s Experience of Migration as a Sending, Transit and Receiving Country”, Istituto Affari Internazionali Working Papers 15, September 30 2015

3 European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), Annual Risk Analysis, 2017

4 Antia Perez, “The Externalization of migration control in Spain and its impact on Moroccan and Ecuadorian migration”, in Ricard Zapata- Barrero (ed.), Shaping the normative contours of the European Union : a Migration-Border framework, CIDOB Editions, Barcelona, October 2010

5 Natter, Katharina (2014),” The Formation of Morocco's Policy Towards Irregular Migration (2000–2007): Political Rationale and Policy Processes”, Int Migr, 52: 15–28

6 Elena Sánchez-Montijano, Jonathan Zaragoza Cristiani, “Crisis migratoria en Melilla, un instrumento de negociacion politica”, Barcelona Center for International Affairs (CIDOB), March 2013

7 Judith Sunderland, “Outsourcing Border Control to Morocco a Recipe for Abuse”, Human Rights Watch, August 27, 2017

8 « Q&A on the Melilla case before the European Court of Human Rights », European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights

9 Estelle Brack, « Liens bancaires et financiers entre le monde arabe et l'Afrique subsaharienne », Confluences Méditerranée, vol. 90, no. 3, 2014, pp. 85-104

10 Ghita Tadlaoui, « Morocco’s religious diplomacy in Africa », Policy Brief n°196, Fundación para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Diálogo Exterior (FRIDE), February 2015

11 Pew Research Center, « The World’s Muslims : Unity and Diversity », August 9, 2012

12 Johara Berriane, « Sub-Saharan students in Morocco: determinants, everyday life, and future plans of a high-skilled migrant group », The Journal of North African Studies,20:4, 2015, pp. 573-589

13 Kelsey P. Norman, « Between Europe and Africa: Morocco as a country of immigration », The Journal of the Middle East and Africa, 7:4, 2016, pp. 421-439

14 Stylianos Kostas, « Morocco's Triple Role in the Euro-African Migration System », Middle East Institute, Apr 18, 2017

15 Maggy Donaldson and Thalia Beaty, “Along Morocco’s border with a Spanish enclave, these women shoulder twice their weight ‘to earn a morsel of bread’”,PRI, May 14, 2015

16 M. G. Jiménez-Álvarez, “ Du Maroc vers l’Espagne. La migration autonome des mineurs marocains” in M. Peraldi (Ed.), Les mineurs migrants non accompagnés. Un défi pour le pays européens (pp. 177–245), Paris: Karthala, 2014

17 Mercedes G. Jiménez-Alvarez, “Autonomous Child migration at the Southern European Border” in C. Ní Laoire et al. (eds.), Movement, Mobilities, and Journeys, Geographies of Children and Young People 6, Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2017

18 Guessous Sana, « Moi, Aïssatou, Guinéenne régularisée au Maroc, mais toujours en sursis », Jeune Afrique, February 16, 2015

19 Kelsey Norman, « EU Territorial Control, Western Immigration Policies, and the Transformation of North Africa », PostColonialist.org, November 18,2013

20 « Migration: Royal Instructions Bring A New Vision For A National And Humanist Migration Policy (Press Release) », Moroccan Ministry of Culture and Communication, September 12, 2013

21 Fédération internationale des droits de l'Homme (FIDH) & Groupe Antiraciste De Défense Et D'accompagnement Des Étrangers Et Migrants (GADEM), « Maroc. Entre rafles et régularisations. Bilan d’une politique migratoire indécise », 2015

22 Fabíola Ortiz, “The Dark Reality for Women Migrants in Morocco”, News Deeply-Women & Girls, February 16, 2017

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid.

25sup> Natter, Katharina (2014),” The Formation of Morocco's Policy Towards Irregular Migration (2000–2007): Political Rationale and Policy Processes”, Int Migr, 52: 15–28

26 “Bordering on Inhumanity”, Euromed Rights, April 27 2017

27 “Refugees at the Algeria- Morocco border - Exiting the dead-end”, Euromed Rights, June 21 2017

28 Western Sahara, U.S. State Department, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor 2007

29 Morocco/Western Sahara: Torture Allegations Cast Shadow Over Trial, Human Rights Watch, July 17, 2017

30 “Human Rights in the Tindouf Refugee Camps “, Human Rights Watch, October 18, 2014

31 EU Bulletin, ‘OLAF report reveals diversions of EU Aids to Western Sahara’, February 3, 2015 32 “Algerian Government Forbids Euromed Rights Mission on Its Territory”, Euromed Rights, November 2, 2016