Managing irregular migration: Morocco as a key partner to the EU

The EU and Morocco cooperate on migration control since 2014. This cooperation is becoming ever more crucial for Europe as this year alone more than 50,000 attempts to cross to Europe were thwarted between January and the end of August, according to Moroccan authorities.

Europe alone cannot cope with the challenges that irregular migration entails. It needs partners, countries that share the same values, the respect that ought to be given to human lives. In 2018, security authorities in Morocco clamped down on more than 70 criminal networks that had been involved in human trafficking.

New routes have made Morocco a magnet for migrants. There’s been rocketing number of arrivals reaching the coasts of Spain, a country that has left Italy and Greece behind as a destination for migrants crossing the Mediterranean.

Migrant Gare du Nord

To manage migration flows means ensuring human lives will be cared for, that human rights will be respected. It is with these goals in mind that the EU decided to increase financial aid for the management of migration flows running through Morocco and Northern Africa

The European Commission has approved three new migration-related programs in North Africa worth 90,5 million EUR. The first one targets the management migration flows, ensuring human lives and respecting human rights. €55m have been earmarked for Morocco and Tunisia from the EU Trust Fund for Africa with the aim of training border guards, as well as providing them with better equipment to prevent irregular migration. The second one will provide emergency assistance to vulnerable and stranded migrants in Libya, while the third will expand the assistance given to refugees and vulnerable migrants.

The EU needs effective partners. It’s in Europe’s best interest to work together with the countries in the periphery to develop the right tools and training, all of the aspects that could improve the way they work along their borders.

The scope of the cooperation is far reaching, with the long term in sight. Last September, the EU signed agreements with Morocco on Green Growth and Competitiveness for €150m, as well as a Social Protection program worth €100m. New jobs will be created giving support to start-ups, as well as for the provision of financial aid for social protection.

The EU sees Morocco as a key partner in the region, and rightly so. 64,6 % of Morocco’s exports went to the EU, and 56,5% of Morocco’s imports came from the EU. When it comes to addressing challenges such as terrorism and migration, Morocco has earned the title of strategic ally of the EU.

The questions of how to best handle irregular migration and how to stop human trafficking, are in most of EU citizens’ minds. Irregular migration, many people claim, is one of the reasons behind the political swing seen across many countries. This political shift is seen by plenty as worrisome given the rise of populist parties in recent elections.

The discussions regarding migration will continue to be at center stage in the world’s agenda as next month Morocco will host the Intergovernmental Conference to Adopt the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration on 10th and 11th of December. The Conference will see the formal adoption of the Global Compact for Migration, as agreed by the UN Member States on July 13th of this year. The migration agreement could transform the lives more than two hundred million migrants.

On November 28th, 2018, a conference on ‘Migration in the Mediterranean: Why the EU needs Partners in the Region’ was organized by the Brussels-based NGO, European Foundation for Democracy, in the European Parliament. The conference was hosted by MEP Gérard Deprez (ALDE/BE), Tunne Kelam (EPP/EE) and Geoffrey Van Orden (ECR/UK). It focused on the challenges linked to migration and the existing partnerships between the EU and the countries in the region.

Estonian EPP MEP Tunne Kelam noted that the EU was founded on the free movement of labour, nonetheless he cautioned that a balance had to be found between respecting peoples’ freedom to move, and limits on migration.

“Even Germany found that there are limits,” he said, “Both physical and psychological and that is why we need a regulatory process for migration.”

Belgian Alde MEP, Gerard Deprez, pointed out that Morocco “is one of the most stable countries in the region.” Its strengths could be leveraged to show how its regional neighbors could cooperate more effectively.


Migration is not a disease but needs to be properly managed,” said Jean-Christopher Filori, head of unit for Maghreb and migration policies at the EU Commission. “It is a joint challenge and one we need to manage together because chaotic and uncontrolled migration is in no-one’s interest. That just plays into the hands of populist political parties and human smugglers.”

Towards the end of the event, a sound reflection came from Ahmed Herzenni, Ambassador at Large on Human Rights. “Migrants are often the most courageous, enterprising people who can enrich society,” he said. It is in this challenging and complex environment that “Europe will not be able tackle this complex issue on its own. Coordination with partners in the region is crucial.”