Migrants traveling between Morocco and Spain are facing major crises regarding security, citizenship, and societal integration.
Ceuta, a small autonomous city on Morocco’s northern coast governed by Spain, is experiencing an increasing number of attempts at illegal migration. The city’s border is enclosed by a six-meter high barbed wire fence and guarded by Spanish police. An estimated 800 to 1,100 migrants attempted to scale Ceuta’s fence and clashed with Spanish authorities on January 1, 2017 alone. This incident resulted in two migrant injuries, 800 arrests, five Spanish police injuries, and fifty Moroccan police injuries. Migrants have even attempted to cross the border by hiding in suitcases and cars.
Following the January raid, Morocco’s interior ministry announced that such attempts to illegally cross into Ceuta will be presented before competent judicial authorities who will “decree their expulsion from [Morocco] or heavier penalties according to the gravity of the act.” Alternatively, Spain reacted to the influx by turning back some migrants to Morocco. Human rights groups criticized Spain’s immigrant rejection because the state’s lengthy deportation procedures often deprive people the opportunity to claim asylum.
African migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea suffered the deadliest year ever with almost 5,000 deaths in 2016. Most migrants have no documentation and originate from Sub-Saharan African countries. Many risk their lives to settle in Morocco or Spain hoping for employment or a peaceful political climate. Unfortunately, Moroccan police do not tolerate and often arrest undocumented migrants. Some migrants build makeshift camps in rural and forest regions of Morocco to escape the police.
In 2013, Morocco became the first Arab nation to offer undocumented migrants permanent residency, in response to the National Council for Human Rights’ recommendations. Morocco’s one-year campaign provided documentation to approximately 27,000 migrants—more than ninety percent of migrants who applied. Still, Morocco remains highly homogenous, and migrants continue facing social and economic discrimination. Police continue arresting migrants, landlords refuse to rent to them, and employers often do not hire them. As a result, many migrants either remain in makeshift settlements, or attempt to enter Europe.
Spain provides legal documentation to previously unauthorized migrants through periodic “regularization” programs. In 2005, migrant workers in Spain received documented status if they were residents for one year, had no criminal record, and had a future employment contract for six months, or three months for agricultural contracts. In 2014, an estimated 714,000 Moroccans lived in Spain, the second-largest group only to Romanians.
The three major issues facing migrants in Morocco and Spain are freedom of movement into Europe, documentation, and regularization. Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) unfortunately may not protect these migrants’ right to movement. The freedom to leave any country does not necessarily allow entrance to any other country. Furthermore, migrants are not being deprived of entry into their own country. There may be a compelling argument, however, that Moroccan migrants are deprived of choosing their residence due to housing discrimination and forced residence in makeshift communities. If the ICCPR’s Right to Movement in Article 12(1) is enforced in Morocco, many migrants should have better access to residency options.
Morocco’s migrants, like others around the world, will risk their lives to achieve safety and well-being. Increased security will not prevent migrants from attempting to scale the fence, but allowing migration directly into mainland Spain can alleviate Ceuta’s burden in taking in more people. Perhaps requesting assistance from other Mediterranean nations, including Portugal or France, will alleviating Spain’s and Ceuta’s burden, but while migrants continue risking their lives to enter Europe, increased security can only lead to more deaths and injuries.
Documentation accessibility is improving, but may be improved by greater interaction with migrant communities. Although 27,000 migrants successfully became citizens in Morocco, some Morocco initiated integration by granting citizenship to thousands of migrants; however, this policy isn’t necessarily enough without societal integration.
Spain’s regularization policies can translate into Morocco’s policy to benefit its migrants and alleviate many of its documentation problems. Spain’s policy of encouraging its migrants to engage in work contracts before becoming legal citizens helps to integrate migrants into their culture and society. Unlike Morocco’s policy to simply allow documentation, Spain’s policy can eliminate social and economic discrimination in its borders. When migrants feel safe and integrated, many are less likely to choose living in makeshift settlements. The financial barrier still exists, but migrant integration into Spain’s economy should alleviate this burden. When Morocco and Spain’s government accepts migrants into their economy, the migrant’s lives and nations’ economies prosper.