A Moroccan fix to Europe's migrant crisis

Once harshly criticized for its mistreatment of African migrants, Morocco has changed its view and now lays down a well-regulated welcome mat. If Europe did more of the same, fewer migrants would risk dangerous sea journeys with smugglers.

AP Photo
African refugee John Pessima, left, from Sierra Leone, works in his hairdressing salon in Casablanca, Morocco. Over the past year, Morocco has been working to grant legal status to the tens of thousands of immigrants living in the country to give them an opportunity to settle and take advantage of the health and education system.

After being startled by the hundreds of migrants perishing on flimsy boats in the Mediterranean, Europe has begun a necessary rethink of how it treats those desperately trying to reach its borders. It need not look too far for a new model, one that can replace the current approach, dubbed “Fortress Europe.” 

Two years ago, Morocco began a shift in its own view of foreign migrants, most of whom have used the North African nation merely as a transit point to Europe. Instead of fearing those fleeing countries in sub-Saharan Africa or elsewhere, Morocco decided to instead lay down a well-regulated welcome mat for many of them.

Its monarch, King Mohammed VI, asked for a “new vision” on migration that would be more inclusive. Morocco had come under strong criticism for its harsh treatment of migrants trying to make the dangerous crossing into Spain. The European Union had also asked Morocco to serve as a “buffer state,” similar to other countries around Europe, in an attempt by the EU to outsource the arrest, detention, and rejection of migrants.

Under its new approach, Morocco has “regularized” nearly 20,000 migrants, granting them residency and setting up programs to integrate them into society and teach them how to run a small business. Even though it is a poor country with high unemployment, “Moroccan society is ... becoming aware that there are foreign migrants, that they need to work, that they need to live with dignity, that they need the same rights to work, to housing, to health care as Moroccans,” one official told The Associated Press. 

Morocco’s lesson for Europe is to provide more legal channels for migration in a global age of high mobility. Tougher border controls are only failing, driving more migrants to take risky journeys with smugglers. Many in Europe now call for a “regulated openness,” which would provide incentives for would-be migrants to wait in line in their home countries. Migration, in other words, can’t be stopped but must instead be diverted into authorized opportunities.

The vast majority of those fleeing their countries are not criminals. “One needs to recognize the agency and dignity of those migrants and refugees,” says François Crépeau, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights. “They face very difficult choices as well as exclusion and violence on a daily basis, and yet they endure, they persist.

“Migration is most often a survival mechanism undertaken out of love. And rather than trying everything we can to prevent them from coming, welcoming them in a regulated way would be a much more productive response.”

Morocco’s model is still a work in progress. But as the EU now tries to fix its broken system, it knows where to look.

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