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Europe: repression without responsibility
12 December 2012

Looking towards Europe from the Moroccan city of Tangiers. In total, more than 16,000 forced migrants have died in transit to Europe, according to UNITED for Intercultural Action (Andrew Galea Debono/JRS Europe)
What happened to Mr Nya was done by European border guards, from an EU that just won the Nobel Peace Prize.
EU influence in Morocco and Algeria leads to stricter border controls, harming migrant rights

Brussels, 12 December 2012 – Morocco and Algeria have become the enforcers of an expanded European border, while countries like Spain and the EU at large wash their hands of responsibility for the detrimental impact these borders have on migrants. This was the conclusion of Teresa Alonso, director of Ceuta-based NGO Asociación Elín, at a Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Europe press conference to release the new report, Lives in Transition: Experiences of Migrants in Morocco and Algeria.

The 1992 bilateral agreement between Spain and Morocco has been used to justify the immediate deportation of migrants apprehended crossing the razor-wired borders of Spanish enclaves Ceuta and Melilla. Over the years the Moroccan border authorities, with the tacit support of Spain, have used repressive measures to keep migrants at bay.

"Morocco can use repressive measures because Spain cannot [be seen] do[ing] such things", said Ms Alonso.

Searching for opportunity. Mr Armel Nya, whose journey from his native Cameroon to Morocco took over a year, told those present at the conference that his end goal was not to reach Europe, but instead to find a chance of having a better life anywhere.

"Migrants like me are only searching for opportunities to be ourselves wherever we can. If I had found such opportunities in the countries I passed through, in Nigeria or Libya, then I would have stayed, but there were no opportunities", Mr Armel Nya explained.

Clamouring for rescue. In 2006, Mr Nya attempted to swim from Morocco to Ceuta. He was joined by a Cameroonian woman who was seven months pregnant at the time. He agreed to pull her through the sea with a rope and tire. During the journey Mr Nya struggled as his friend began to drown.

"She lost consciousness. I tried to continue swimming with her on my back, but it was impossible", he told participants.

A Spanish Guardia Civil boat found them and brought them on deck. But instead of bringing them to safety, they brought them back to Morocco.

"I begged them not to take us back, and told them that my friend was pregnant, but they would not listen and threw us overboard", he continued.

Still far from the shoreline, a Moroccan guard boat eventually spotted them and brought them to dry land.

"I'm here by the grace of God. Many of my friends are still in Morocco and others are in their final resting place in the desert or on the sea floor of the Mediterranean", he added.

Denial of responsibility. "What happened to Mr Nya was done by European border guards, from an EU that just won the Nobel Peace Prize", JRS Europe Policy Officer, Stefan Kessler, told the audience in no uncertain terms the EU is responsible for such rights abuses.

Citing the report's findings, Mr Kessler explained that financial support is unavailable to migrants in Morocco, even for those who wish to return home voluntarily.

"Migrants have no access to protection in Europe and no assistance for voluntary return. They are left in a state of limbo, and the EU is washing its hands of the situation", he said.

The JRS Europe report also cites evidence of labour exploitation of migrants, specifically in Algeria where they are unable to take up employment in the formal labour market. In order to support themselves and their families, many take jobs on the black market. Consequently, they are more vulnerable to abuse at the hands of their employers. 

"The inability to work is a major barrier to meaningful protection for migrants, as well as constituting a serious denial of their fundamental human rights", explained Mr Kessler.

Philip Amaral, Advocacy and Communications Coordinator, JRS Europe 

Press Contact Information
James Stapleton
+39 06 69 868 468