Illegal immigrants, a new line drawn in the sand…

le 4 décembre 2018

23 August 2018, three hundred sub-Saharan immigrants storm the Ceuta enclave’s wire fencing. 180 of them manage to enter the city. But the operation is marked by violence against the Moroccan and Spanish law enforcement agencies, victims of acid attacks.

And the injury toll? Seven policemen from the Civil Guard wounded, fifteen on the Moroccan side as well, all with injuries and burns to the face.

The following day, we are told that the immigrants have been handed over to the Moroccan authorities who announce that they are to be deported to their countries of origin.

This decision, apparently the first of its kind, is justified by a Spanish-Moroccan agreement dating back to 1992, which allows for immigrants smuggled into Spain from Moroccan soil to be readmitted.

21 October 2018, this time it’s the Melilla enclave, near Nador, which provides the stage for a massive assault perpetrated by more than 300 immigrants.

180 of them manage to get through, while 141 fail in their attempt and are arrested by the Moroccan authorities.

Violence is again used to gain forcible entry, resulting in injuries to about fifteen soldiers from the FAR and Auxiliary Forces and seven on the Spanish side.

While the Moroccan Ministry of the Interior announces that the 141 immigrants are to be deported to their countries of origin, Spain confirms that 55 of the 180 sub-Saharans, who have managed to get through, are to be handed over to the Moroccan authorities. The Kingdom is to instigate deportation procedures against the 55.


We now understand, on the basis of the information provided, that a new Moroccan-Spanish policy on illegal immigrants is in the process of being drawn up despite the somewhat lively protests by Moroccan and Spanish NGOs, which denounce these accelerated measures and deportation conditions.

On both sides of the border, the authorities want to radically dissuade all candidates for the h’rig from attempting to do so via the enclaves.

Not just because the assaults are on an increasingly larger scale and more violent, not just because people have already died but, above all, because the other ‘routes’ (Libya, the Balkans) are now almost entirely closed. Madrid and Rabat would like to prevent this new option from gaining a foothold for those who dream of the European Eldorado and who flock in their droves to the Ceuta and Melilla enclaves.

A clear signal has therefore been sent to candidates for the h’rig that the perpetrators of any violence or attempt to illegally cross the border will be deported to the country from which they came. It also underlines the fact that the Moroccan government has more or less managed to commit a number of sub-Saharan embassies to cooperating in identifying and repatriating the arrested harragas.

Furthermore, after the tragic episode which saw a young candidate from Tetouan die aboard a go-fast, shot by the Royal Navy, the patera solution has also became very risky, primarily because the Moroccan and Spanish officials have finally understood that these illegal transfers by sea in fact serve as cover for drug traffickers across the Strait.

In recent weeks, several mafia-smuggling networks have been dismantled and a number of boats seized, while Morocco has heightened border vigilance along the Moroccan coastline and in our territorial waters.

Thus, while the European Commission finally promises to specifically allocate funds to combat illegal immigration, providing a hundred or so million euros to help Morocco in its efforts, governments on both sides of the Strait are also aware that clandestine immigration has surged exponentially.


Pedro Sanchez, Spain’s prime minister, has toned down his threat to dismantle the fencing around Ceuta and Melilla, while cooperation between public security officials from countries seems to be working effectively.

It is true that, for both the Moroccan and Spanish authorities, the number of attempted illegal border crossings is increasingly worrying.

While the Moroccan government announced that 54,000 attempts had failed in 2017, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) specified that, since January 2018, 47,000 immigrants had entered Spain illegally including 5,000 by land.

According to the German authorities, the mafia networks that proliferate between northern Morocco and southern Spain are capable of organising passage for 6,000 illegal immigrants each month!

In such a context, while Rabat repeatedly proclaims that the Kingdom has no intention of assuming the role of prison warden to simply satisfy the populist and xenophobic desiderata of a number of European capitals, it is clear that Rabat and Madrid have nevertheless adopted a stronger and tougher policy aimed at closing off the ‘Strait Route’ to illegal immigrants, regardless of whether the latter are Moroccan or sub-Saharan.

Automatic deportation and forcible removal to the South of Morocco, if acts of violence have been committed in attempting to cross, await those candidates who, grouped together in the North, in Tangier in particular, await the ideal moment to embark or storm the fences. Such is the new order of things. Whereas, tens of thousands of sub-Saharans already in the country have succeeded in recent months and years in acquiring bona fide resident status.

But the major preoccupation of the Moroccan-Spanish authorities, as far as the h’rig is concerned, is to avoid opening the floodgates.