Dear Honorable Deputy,
In our capacity as Moroccan MPs, members of the Morocco/EU Joint Parliamentary Committee, we would like to shed light on the June 24, 2022 assault on the fence separating the cities of Nador and Melilla, in northern Morocco, organized by, what the Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez called, “migration mafias”, and which resulted in the death of several migrants, and the injury of hundreds of migrants and security forces. These organized groups exploit the aspirations and desires of African migrants hoping to improve their socio-economic situation to serve their human trafficking agendas.
The tragic events that took place at the level of the fence separating the two cities is part of a process that marks a huge shift in the methods used by the human trafficking and illegal migration and organized crime networks to storm the fences and attack security forces to get as many migrants as possible beyond the fence and into Melilla. The attacks have become over the last years more violent, more organized and more lethal. Various militarized and well-trained elements cross the Great Sahara desert and from there traverse Algeria to cross into Morocco with great ease, only to gather in the woods surrounding Nador and Melilla to prepare violent attacks on the fence separating the two cities, or in the mountains overlooking Ceuta, to prepare attacks on the fence surrounding that city as well.
The 24 June assault has only confirmed Moroccan and Spanish security forces worst fears, namely that the migration mafia ring leaders are more trained in violent street fighting, guerrilla warfare and makeshift weapons fabrication; it is highly probable that some of them may have been trained by organized crime groups roaming the vast region of the Sahel and the Grand Sahara. The change in methods from mildly violent (in the past) to dangerously lethal (most recently) denotes a dangerous change that we need all (EU, North African and Sahel countries) to reckon with and factor in as part of our future collaboration efforts to fight organized crime and illegal and violent migration.
Moroccan security forces are used to assaults on the fence around the two cities of Ceuta and Melilla for years now (145 assaults since 2016), but the 24 June, 2022 attack is unprecedented in its use of terrorizing methods and dangerous violence, perpetrated by seasoned and violent elements brought in through neighboring countries to storm the fence, at moments of political rift between Spain and Algeria and heightened tensions between Algeria and Morocco, and geopolitical difficulties in the Sahelo-Saharan region.
What is unique about the recent events is that the Mafia ring leaders changed the point of attack from the “usual” locality of the Bario Chino in Melilla to a narrow passageway specifically used by residents and pedestrians to cross between Melilla and Nador. The wave of 2000 migrants, led by militarized mafia leaders, stormed through the streets of Nador in a violent and highly orchestrated manner, and tried to get through a narrow passageway, which led to a stampede that resulted in the death of 23 and the injury of 78 migrants (some of whom are still in hospital); more or less 140 Moroccan security officials were injured, some of them in grave conditions. The assault was extremely violent, showing a high degree of organization, an experienced chain of command, paramilitary methods and seasoned and well-trained Mafia network leaders, with organized crime methods.
Morocco has been a formidable bulwark against illegal migration flows towards Europe, using its own resources to guard its own borders and collaborate with Europe and Africa to better manage migratory floods. Moroccan forces look outwards towards sea and land to prevent illegal entries into the country and inwards to prevent illegal crossings to Europe. As such, Morocco spends half a billion euros a year fighting illegal migration to Europe; EU aid to Morocco in this regard does not go beyond a total of 270 million euros for a total period of 15 years, averaging a mere 15 million a year. Fighting illegal migration requires resources and real partnership. For the moment, Morocco uses its own resources to guard 3500 kilometers of sea and 3400 kilometers of land borders.
The challenge is daunting, but the success stories are there: 1300 networks dismantled over the last 5 years only (256 in 2021 and 100 until May 2022). Likewise, more than 360,000 illegal migration attempts have been thwarted since 2017 (63,000 in 2021 and 26,000 until May 2022). These stark successes should not be tarnished by tragic events like the recent violent assault on Nador and Melilla.
Morocco is not only a land of passage for sub-Saharan migrants wanting to cross to Europe and a source of migration, but a land of welcome as well. Since 2013, it adopted a policy of legalization of illegal migrants that resulted in 50 thousand being accepted as legal foreign residents, in addition to some 12 thousand sub-Saharan students who study in Moroccan universities, 90 % of which living on scholarships provided by the Moroccan government.
As MP, we applaud Moroccan government humane efforts to protect the dignity and rights of migrants and vulnerable victims of Mafia and organized crime. We note with satisfaction how the Morocco Royal Navy rescued nearly 15,000 people at sea in 2021 and 2384 in 2022. We also encourage the Moroccan Government to consolidate its policy of humane and rights-based approach to migration, while favoring a safe return of migrants to their countries of origin, with respect for their rights and dignity and in coordination with African countries.
Migration cannot be managed through a security approach alone; reinforcing legal and mutually beneficial migration, alleviating visa procedures for professionals, entrepreneurs, students and seasonal workers, along with a sustainable and more efficient development of countries of origin, and through an effective international aid program and the creation of a space of virtuous growth and prosperity around the Mediterranean, in North Africa and the Sahel regions are real and effective entry points for a successful EU-and-partners strategy for migration.
The international context is such nowadays that attempts at illegal migration will only get exacerbated. Post-Covid disruptions, war in Ukraine, skyrocketing food and energy prices, the weaponization of energy by some countries in Eastern Europe and North Africa, rising instabilities in the Sahel, North Africa, the Black Sea and the South China Sea, will lead not only to the increase of migrants and refugees but to the weaponization of migration for political purposes. Some in the Spanish media (Andros Lozano, “Las fuerzas de seguridad temen que Argelia haya relajado el control en su frontera con Marruecos para presionar a España con la inmigración”, El Mundo, June 27, 2022) talk of Algeria’s relaxation of its control of its borders with Morocco, which has led to greater influx of migrants towards Melilla, as a way of pressuring Spain regarding the Western Sahara issue.
It is time to rethink partnerships and neighborhood policies to work towards a more sustainable and mutually beneficial approach to migration that protects borders and national sovereignties while opening reasonable doors for a legal and sustainable movement of people between Northern and Southern countries. Shared prosperity is key to this new model of neighborhood policy between Europe and its Southern partners.
On behalf of Moroccan MPs, Members of the Parliamentary Joint Committee, Morocco/EU
Co-President, Dr. Lahcen Haddad