Despite the significant decrease in the number of migrants arriving in the EU since 2015, the emergence of new routes through Spain highlights the need for the EU to get closer to its Mediterranean partners, in particular to Morocco.
The Mediterranean crossing is becoming deadlier every year and migration remains one of Europe’s most important issues.
“Uncontrolled migration just plays into the hands of populists and human smugglers” to borrow the words of Jean Christopher Filori, Head of Unit for Maghreb and Migration Policy at the European Commission, during the meeting organised by the Brussels-based NGO European Foundation for Democracy on November 28th.
The implementation of the controversial EU-Turkey refugee agreement in 2016 has significantly reduced the number of arrivals in Greece.
Meanwhile in Italy, where 119,000 arrivals were recorded in 2017 (67 per cent of EU arrivals that year), some 20,000 migrants reached the country between January and September 2018, mainly due to cooperation with the Libyan coastguard.
By contrast, according to figures in the progress report on the Implementation of the European Agenda on Migration, 2018 has seen increasing pressure on Western Mediterranean routes – which is also reflected in the number of fatalities.
Since January more than 35,000 people have crossed the sea to enter Spain or reached the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, which made Spain the main point of entry for arrivals into the EU.
While migration routes shift, Morocco is has become an indisputable ally for the EU. As one of the most stable countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, it is already an important EU partner in different areas, such as agriculture, development, terrorism and migration.
Being an African Union member, it could also play a key role to reach out to other African countries in order to tackle the drivers of irregular migration.
Although a Turkey-EU-like agreement is unlikely to be accepted by the Kingdom, the Moroccan authorities have already prevented more than 120,000 attempts to cross to Europe since 2017 and have dismantled numerous criminal networks involved in human trafficking.
The country has also received around 50,000 applications for regularisation, 90 percent of these have been granted.
Becoming a place of destination rather than a transit country brings about challenges of integration and protection of vulnerable groups that we have witnessed in Europe.
It’s no coincidence that this country was chosen to host the Intergovernmental Conference on the Global Compact for Migration organised by the United Nations in December.
This meeting aims to adopt the world’s first global migration agreement, which could change the lives of millions of people. However, its fate remains unclear due to the lack of engagement of some governments.
Meanwhile, the EU has recognised the need to foster stability and contribute to better migration management in North Africa in order to avoid further humanitarian crises.
In July, it decided to provide €55m for Morocco and Tunisia under the umbrella of the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa to train and better equip border guards.
Although such initiatives are commendable, they are unlikely to solve the migration crisis and its societal consequences.
Coordinated action is needed with the EU’s Southern Mediterranean partners to develop the region, to tackle the root causes of irregular migration, and turn migration into a trump card instead of a social disease, on both sides of the Mediterranean Sea.