Will immigration benefit Europe in the future?

Immigration, Displacement and Asylum: Current Issues

Inca stick

Inka Stock teaches special tasks in the migration, transnationalization and development work group at the Faculty of Sociology at Bielefeld University. Her research interests lie in the social effects of new migration regimes on the lives of migrants in countries in the Global South. She also has many years of experience in development and migration work in various countries in the Global South, with a focus on Africa and South America.

Countries of the south are mainly discussed in public as the countries of origin of migration movements. What is often overlooked is the fact that these can also be immigration and transit countries, as the example of Morocco shows.

Moroccan-Spanish border fence near Ceuta. Often whole groups of several hundred people try to get over the fence with ladders and other aids at the same time. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

(Intermediate) destination for different groups of migrants

Since the 1960s, Morocco has developed into an important country of origin for migrants in Europe. However, since the end of the 1990s, it has also increasingly become a country of immigration in which very diverse groups of migrants live.

On the one hand, Morocco has been an attractive destination for students from countries south of the Sahara for many years, as its universities and the quality of education there are generally valued on the African continent. [1] Many Europeans of retirement age are also drawn to Morocco to spend their retirement years there. [2] On the other hand, Morocco is also a stopover for numerous migrants on the way to Europe. These often stay in Morocco for years if they fail to get to Europe due to the steadily growing entry restrictions for non-Europeans. Most immigrants come from sub-Saharan countries, but there are also increasing numbers of people from Asia and the Middle East (Iraq, Syria). There are different reasons for coming to Morocco. On the one hand, there are many migrants among the migrants who are fleeing persecution and violence in their countries of origin, but on the other hand there are also those who hope for a better future abroad due to a lack of economic or social prospects in their home country.

While students and retirees can usually obtain residence status in Morocco, this option is often denied to other migrant groups. As a result, many of them have inadequate access to medical care, social benefits, participation in the labor market and only limited opportunities to attend educational institutions. Most of the undocumented migrants in Morocco therefore live in very precarious economic and social conditions and depend on the help of international organizations or local charitable associations. Many live in overcrowded shelters or on the streets and can only survive by doing odd jobs. Migrants often live in this situation for several years. While some never give up the dream of Europe, others try to build a new life in Morocco despite great financial and social disadvantage. [3]

Restrictive migration policy

Morocco's government was one of the first Maghreb states to respond to these dynamics more than ten years ago with reforms of its migration policy, the success of which, however, remains to be critically questioned. The reforms, which have also been planned and implemented in cooperation with various institutions of the European Union, are primarily aimed at tightening measures to prevent irregular migration. This includes training and equipping border staff and the police with regard to migration problems, as well as legal and administrative regulations which criminalize irregular migration and smuggling and which can then also administratively pursue these facts. This must be seen against the background that the EU has an interest in harmonizing Morocco's migration policies with the strategic orientations of European policies, since Morocco, as the EU's direct neighbor, has a special role to play in the success of the EU's border security measures. In contrast, there were only a few political and administrative measures to improve the social and economic rights of migrants living in Morocco. For example, a one-time, time-limited regularization process was only carried out in 2014, which made it possible for undocumented migrants to obtain residence status if, for example, they were seriously ill, had a five-year stay in Morocco or had an employment contract [4]. However, since new migrants are constantly arriving in Morocco, it is to be expected that the number of migrants without a residence permit will continue to rise in the future and that their social and economic situation will remain precarious. In addition, a national asylum system is still being set up, so procedures for the recognition of refugees can only be carried out by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). According to UNHCR, there were 5,473 refugees and asylum seekers in Morocco in 2015. That is an increase of 80 percent compared to the previous year. Refugees in Morocco come from a total of 36 countries, mainly from Syria. [5]

Migration routes and border protection

The migration routes in and through Morocco are influenced by the geographic location of the country. Morocco's coast is less than 20 kilometers from the Spanish coast through the Strait of Gibraltar. Because of the more intensive controls, many migrants have tried to switch to alternative routes in recent years. The two Spanish exclaves on the Moroccan mainland, the cities of Ceuta and Melilla, offer an important, but very risky way of crossing the border. They have belonged to Spain since the Middle Ages and are separated from the rest of Moroccan territory by a land border and the sea. In the past few decades, massive border security systems have been set up to prevent people from crossing the borders irregularly. [6] In 1999 the Spanish government erected double border fences several kilometers long around Ceuta and Melilla. The borders are also equipped with fixed and mobile infrared cameras. [7] Part of the costs for the safety systems were borne by the European Union. [8] The migrants increasingly reacted to this tightening of border controls with changed migration tactics: Often whole groups of several hundred people try to get over the fence with ladders and other aids at the same time. This regularly leads to violent clashes between border officials and migrants on the Spanish and Moroccan side. Many migrants were injured or died in the process. [9]

Migration as a social reality

The long history of labor migration in Morocco, the often dramatic events on the border with Ceuta and Melilla and the increasingly visible presence of migrants in the country's major cities has also led to the issue of migration to Morocco both domestically and internationally Has gained importance. Not only the government, but also civilians in Morocco and Europe are concerned with the issue. While in the 2000s it was mainly international aid organizations that drew attention to the situation of migrants, today it is also trade unions, local human rights organizations and non-profit associations that actively deal with the refugee and migration policy of Morocco. Many projects and campaigns have been carried out with the help of these organizations that campaigned for the human rights of migrants. Migrants themselves have also appeared in public more often in recent years to represent their interests. They were involved in the coordination mechanisms of migration policy together with state and non-state institutions and were present at public discussion forums. Several protests were also organized by migrant organizations. These developments suggest that migration and displacement are now important issues in Moroccan social reality. For the Moroccan state, the challenges of immigration lie primarily in the creation of better opportunities for the social, economic and political participation of the migrants, as this would in all likelihood also mean higher state investments in social systems such as health, education, the labor market and social security . However, this task can only be partially solved at the national level and requires the involvement of international actors in development policy if sustainable solutions are to be found that will benefit all the citizens of Morocco. The example of Morocco shows that the social change that these migration dynamics trigger in countries outside the European Union can also influence European development and foreign policy.

This article is part of the Policy Brief: Migration within Africa.

On the subject


El Mundo (2005): Cinco muertos en un as alto en la frontera de Ceuta, Zapatero mobiliza a 480 soldados, Madrid: El Mundo. Available at: http://www.elmundo.es/elmundo/2005/09/29/sociedad/1127968660.html (accessed: October 28, 2016).

European Commission (2005): Visit to Ceuta and Melilla - Mission Report.

Technical mission to Morocco on illegal immigration 7th October– 11th October 2005, MEMO / 05/380. Available at: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-05-380_en.htm?locale=en (accessed: October 28, 2016).

FIDH / GADEM (2015): Maroc- Entre raffles et regularisations. Bilan d’une politique migratoire indecise. Rabat: GADEM. Available at: https://www.fidh.org/IMG/pdf/rapport_maroc_migration_fr.pdf (accessed: October 28, 2016).

Graca Peters, K. (2011): Europe's high-tech fortress in Africa. Spiegel Online, August 8, 2011. Available at: http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/ceuta-und-melilla-europas-hightech-festung-in-afrika-a-778304.html (accessed: November 3, 2016).

IMIS / BpB (Ed. 2016): Country Profile Morocco. Focus migration. Available at: http://focus-migration.hwwi.de/Marokko.5987.0.html (accessed: October 28, 2016).

Khachani, M. (2010): Maroc: Migration, marché de travail et développement. Document de travail. Geneva: International Labor Organization. Available at: http://www.ilo.org/public/french/bureau/inst/download/maroc.pdf (accessed: December 01, 2016).

Natter, K. (2016): More than just countries of origin. Migration patterns in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Berlin: Friedrich Ebert Foundation. Available at: http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/iez/12717.pdf (accessed: November 3, 2016).

Stock, I. (2013): Transit to nowhere: How Sub-Saharan African Migrants in Morocco confront life in forced immobility. PhD thesis. School of Sociology and Social Policy Nottingham: University of Nottingham. Available at: http://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/28525/ (accessed: November 3, 2016).

UNHCR (2016): Global Focus-Morocco. Geneva: UNHCR. Available at: http://reporting.unhcr.org/node/10331 (accessed: October 28, 2016).

Gold, P. (2000): Europe or Africa? A contemporary study of the Spanish North African Enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

Alscher, S. (2005) 'Knocking at the doors of "Fortress Europe": Migration and Border Control in Southern Spain and Eastern Poland', The Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, University of California, Working Paper 126. Available at: http: //www.stefan-alscher.de/resources/wrkg126.pdf (Access: November 13, 2016)