Morocco could have deliberately increased the flow of migrants setting off for Spain to pressure the European Union (EU) to make more generous concessions in forthcoming talks.
The claim, from the porCausa group funded by George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, comes as Spain moves to slash privileges given to illegal migrants after arrivals increased by 350 percent so far this year compared to 2017.
The country shares land borders with Morocco around the North African exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, with its European mainland less than nine miles away across the sea.
Morocco is currently preparing for talks with Brussels on cash handouts for managing migrants as well as a fisheries agreement — contentious, due to the dictatorship’s illegal occupation of Western Sahara and its territorial waters. It is accused of easing border controls to ramp up the EU’s migrant crisis and give them more leverage over the bloc.
Gonzalo Fanjul, an investigator at porCausa, a foundation that probes migration issues, told euronews:
“It is more difficult to say with absolute certainty, but several observers I trust suggest that Morocco, as it has done in the past, is using as part of the negotiation on very sensitive issues such as the fisheries agreement, or in the negotiation of the aid that the EU will give the country to manage these [migration] flows.”
He added: “Traditionally, the Moroccan state security forces squeeze or raise their hands depending on the circumstances.
“One of the elements that makes us think that this is a factor is that among the flows that are coming there are many Moroccans, and these immigrants are not displaced from Libya.”
Boat Migrants Down 80 Percent in Populist Italy, up 350 Percent in Socialist Spain https://t.co/V2uBtPajYg
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Last month, the EU said it was handing Morocco and neighbouring Tunisia €55 million to “improve maritime border management, save lives at sea and fight against smugglers operating in the region”.
A spokeswoman for the unelected European Commission insisted there was no evidence Morocco had eased border controls and Morocco’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to Euronews’ requests for comment.
Spain formed a new Socialist Party government at the beginning of June after the previous conservative executive was engulfed in a corruption scandal, and quickly offered to take illegal migrant boats being turned away by Italy.
The country is now the main arrival point for boat migrants and may be the only EU nation still enthusiastically accepting those picked up in the Mediterranean and off the African coast by NGO ships.
However, the government has stopped applying the generous conditions first offered to those on ships initially turned away by Italy, including the Aquarius, earlier this year.
Just two months ago, Socialist prime minister Pedro Sánchez announced the 630 migrants on board the Aquarius would get a special 45-day residency permit for humanitarian reasons.
Now, however, the migrants “will follow the protocols established for any migrant arrival,” government sources told El Pais.