Europe: EU-North Africa relationship puts migrant rights at risk
06 December 2012

One of many abandoned buildings in Boush Bouk, a neighorhood in Algiers, Algeria, where destitute migrants live (Andrew Galea Debono/JRS Europe)
Instead of merely shifting responsibility for refugee protection and looking away, the EU must take the lead and make human rights a non-negotiable element in its dealings with third countries.
Press release

Forced deportations and human rights abuses are the norm for migrants in Morocco and Algeria, says latest report by the Jesuit Refugee Service

Brussels, Rome, 6 December 2012 – Police raids and forced expulsions of migrants are on the rise in Morocco, and migrants in Algeria are being pushed to live in dilapidated housing. The lack of an asylum law in both countries leaves too many forced migrants without access to refugee status. The abuse of migrant rights persists largely because the European Union too often looks the other way, according to a new report published today by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Europe.

"For years the EU has relied on Morocco to hold migrants back without ensuring any kind of procedure to identify persons in need of refugee protection. In Algeria, where many migrants also get trapped without protection, they are often forced to beg on the street and live in abandoned buildings", said Dr Andrew Galea Debono, JRS Europe researcher.

Refugees residing in Algeria often resort to living in abandoned houses, because the government denies them permission to work within the country, a major institutional obstacle to refugees becoming independent.

In the report, Lives in Transition, Dr Galea Debono recounts the harrowing story of Armel, a 37-year-old Cameroonian who tried to swim two kilometres at night from the Moroccan coast to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta. He pulled along a pregnant woman, using a rope and tire in 2006. They were far from the shore when the tire was punctured, and in their struggle to survive the woman lost consciousness. Fortunately spotted by Spanish Guardia Civil boat, they were dragged aboard.

"Instead of taking us to safety and helping the woman to recover, they took us back to the shore of Morocco and threw us into the sea. I told them she was pregnant, but they did not seem to believe me. She was still unconscious when they threw her into the sea. The Moroccan police saw us and helped us swim to land. We managed to survive but the woman lost her child", said Armel.

Dr Galea Debono spoke to several migrants who had been repeatedly forcibly expelled to the open desert by both the Moroccan and Algerian authorities. The Moroccan authorities have been known to  frequently deport people directly to the border without reviewing their individual circumstances. Consequently, many sub-Saharan Africans with refugee status, and even those with a legal visa, have been expelled to the border for little reason other than the colour of their skin. Local NGOs in Morocco told JRS Europe that such deportations have significantly increased since the beginning of 2012.

"Migrants picked up in raids usually have their mobile phones taken from them and are not given any chance to notify their families. Meanwhile, local gangs and even police officers prey on vulnerable migrants who are left stranded on both sides of the Moroccan-Algerian border", explained Dr Galea Debono.

JRS Europe looks to the EU and its member states to ensure that access to refugee procedures and the protection of migrants' fundamental human rights are prioritised in all bilateral agreements with Morocco and Algeria. 

Each government should eliminate the practice of forced returns, ensuring the rights of all  migrants and refugees are upheld. Furthermore migrants should never be expelled to the harsh desert borders, regardless of their legal status, and Assisted Voluntary Return should instead be employed when necessary.

"It is evident that neither Algeria nor Morocco can be considered a safe place for migrants in need of protection", says JRS Europe Policy Officer Stefan Kessler. "Instead of merely shifting responsibility for refugee protection and looking away, the EU must take the lead and make human rights a non-negotiable element in its dealings with third countries".


Contact information: 
Philip Amaral
Advocacy and Communications Coordinator, JRS Europe
Office telephone: +32 (0) 2 250 32 20
Mobile telephone: +32 (0) 485 173 766

Notes to the Editors:
  • The report, Lives in Transition: The Experiences of Migrants Living in Morocco and Algeria, will be released at a public event on Thursday, 06 December at the Residence Palace in Brussels, from 10:00-12:00. Speaking at the event will be: 
    • Mr Stefan Kessler, JRS Europe Policy Officer, who will present the report's policy recommendations.
    • Mr Armel Nya, from Cameroon, who lived in Morocco as a migrant from 2004 to 2007 and now lives in Spain.. 
    • Ms Teresa Alonso, from Asociación Elin in Spain, who will speak about Spain's cooperation agreement with Morocco and its consequences for migrants.
  • The research for Lives in Transition was done in summer and autumn 2012, and is based on interviews with migrants in Casablanca, Rabat and Tangiers, Morocco; and in Algiers, Oran and Tamanrasset, Algeria.
  • JRS is a global Catholic non-government organisation based in more than 50 countries with a mission to accompany, serve and advocate for refugees and forcibly displaced persons. In Europe, JRS is present in 14 countries where staff and volunteers visit immigration detention centres, provide services to destitute migrants and ensure access to protection for migrants at Europe's borders.
  • In Morocco, JRS operates a project in a Casablanca known as SAM, Service Accueil Migrants. It provides basic services, education and vocational training to migrant women and kindergarten services to their children.

Press Contact Information
James Stapleton
+39 06 69 868 468