Spain Strikes Deal with Morocco to Hand It Migrants Rescued at Sea
The new agreements refers to rescues which are closer to the Moroccan coast.
Spain has reached an agreement with its North African neighbor Morocco to curb the influx of EU-bound migrants through the Mediterranean described as unprecedented.
The deal allows Spanish authorities to take some of the migrants rescued at sea to Moroccan ports rather than to Spain’s own ports, respectively, EU soil, reports El Pais, citing three sources from the Spanish government.
Under the deal, Spain’s sea rescue services, Salvamento Marítimo, will be able to send saved migrants to Morocco’s ports if the rescue occurs in missions where Spanish rescue services are assisting the Moroccan Coast Guard in their maritime area of responsibility, and when the nearest port is in Morocco.
“Given our good relations with Morocco, Salvamento Marítimo will assist the Moroccan Navy if so required. In that event, rescued individuals will be taken to the nearest safe harbor, which in this case will be Moroccan,” said a government source.
The new Spanish – Moroccan migrant deal represents a paradigm shift given that until now any migrants rescued by the Spanish services in the Gibraltar Strait or the westernmost part of the Mediterranean have been taken automatically to Spanish (EU) ports.
That has been the case even if the rescue occurred closer to the Mediterranean coast of Morocco.
The agreement stipulates a greater role for the Moroccan Coast Guard in migrant rescue efforts. The Moroccan service has accounted for a fraction of all Western Mediterranean rescues so far – 4,045 (17%) out of 23,135 people who were rescued in the area in 2017 leading employees of Spain’s Salvamento Marítimo to complain of Moroccan inaction.
“It’s happened before that Morocco informs us that they are going out on a rescue mission, but nobody shows up,” said one of its employees speaking on condition of anonymity.
The new Spanish – Moroccan deal is supposed to become effectively immediately although the outcome from the upcoming early general election in Spain (set for April 28, 2019) could affect its application.
Spain has been instrumental in getting the EU to release EUR 140 million in funding to boost Morocco’s migration control, and Rabat is said to receive two speedboats, worth around EUR 2 million each, for the same purpose.
Spain’s agreement with Morocco is seen as an attempt by the Spanish authorities to curb the influx of migrants from Africa and the Middle East, a hot issue in the election.
In December 2018, Vox, a far-right party promising to crack down on illegal immigration, made substantial gains in elections in Spain’s southern region of Andalusia, while the ruling Socialist Party (PSOE) suffered a major defeat.
Vox has made cracking down on illegal immigration the center of its campaign all across Spain for the upcoming general election.
Spain’s authorities also seem to have changed their migrants welcome policy with respect to rescue ships run by NGOs.
Such vessels are now denied departure permits which prevents them from returning to Spain but with migrants turned away by other EU countries such as Italy and Malta, whose closed-door policies have diverted the Mediterranean migrant influx further west.
According to the Spanish Interior Ministry, more than 64,000 migrants arrived in Spain through the Mediterranean in 2018.
Data from Frontex, the EU border agency, puts the figure at nearly 57,000 migrants, twice the figure as in Italy and nearly the same as in Greece. At the narrowest point of the Gibraltar Strait, the distance between North Africa (Morocco) and mainland Spain is only 14 kilometers (7.7 nautical miles).
In 2018, Morocco rejected the possibility of hosting migrant detention centers but appears to have taken some measures to limit the number of migrants using its territory to head to the EU. Also in 2018, Spain was one of the “border” EU countries to strike bilateral agreements with Germany for taking back migrants.
(Banner image: Wikimedia Commons)