The hidden ‘battlefield’ - struggles for freedom of movement in Morocco

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Artwork of Noubissi Arts, Tangier, Morocco

Preface: Remarks on writing the Western Med Regional Analysis

Writing these reports on developments on the Western Mediterranean migration route via Morocco is a complex task and we would like to share some reflections on the process before going into the content.

There is little media coverage on the situation of people on the move via Morocco; not least because the Moroccan kingdom controls press activity. It takes a dim view of investigations into its own shortcomings or reports of conflict. Independent investigators, journalists, human rights reporters and activists are observed and we know of several cases where people have been asked to leave the country and had their material confiscated.

The Hirak movement began in the Rif region in 2016. It demanded basic social rights such as education, health care and work opportunities. It resulted in the arrest of at least 17 independent journalists and 400 activists. Many people are still imprisoned.[1] The Freedom House Index labels Morocco as ‘partly free’, and mentions the repression of non-governmental actors, such as the AMDH (the Moroccan Human Rights Association) and the ban on Amnesty International from conducting research in Morocco.[2]

The political context is one reason why the struggles of travellers in the Western Med are so invisible. This is why Alarm Phone tries to cover the main developments and incidents in the Western Med and does not focus only on the sea crossings.

Much of the information that we report comes directly from the Alarm Phone activists who are themselves in transit in Morocco. These insider perspectives are interwoven with information from other activist groups and contacts, social media content, press releases and newspaper articles. In creating the content of this report, we are aware of some issues that we want to bring to the fore here:

  • We want to report on the repression and the precarity of the people in transit without victimising the travellers or hiding their agency. We want to highlight the desperation of this cycle of repression without forgetting empowering moments of resistance and victories, Boza-moments.


  • In general in border regime discussions it is important not to portray Morocco as the play thing of the west, as a state without agency, instrumentalised within the European border regime. This would be to underestimate the country. Nor would it be correct to ascribe the sole responsibility for the abuse on the Western transit route to the Hashemite kingdom. This would ignore the culpability and responsibility of the European Union.


  • We do not want to reproduce the division between sub saharan travellers and harragas — people from the Maghreb communities — but the harragas’ struggles are much more hidden and tricky to report on, as Moroccan nationals face different kinds of state repression than sub saharan travellers. Even though this report focuses on the sub saharan travellers, we are aware that nearly half of the sea crossings in the Western Mediterranean are conducted by Moroccan nationals.


  • We try to break down our analysis’ of tendencies and dynamics to specific incidents. We are aware that reporting on single incidents of the same nature might seem repetitive, but that way we also highlight the consistent character of structural repression.


  • We do not want to reproduce nationalist ideas and divisions in terms of citizenship, but we sometimes decided to refer to nationalities in our reports in order to facilitate the identification of the people concerned.


  • Lastly, we want to make clear that these analyses are aimed at state officials and institutions (to shake their complacency), activists (to share information and network) and the travelling communities (to inform and empower). At the same time they also serve as a long-term archive of happenings along the Western Mediterranean route. Writing for diverse target groups at once is a challenge, but in being transparent about what information is shared in which way and with whom, there is also an interesting potential.


The content of the following report:

1. Crossings and AP experiences
2. News from the regions
     2.1 Tangier and the Strait of Gibraltar
     2.2 Nador and the forests
     2.3 The Western Saharan route
     2.4 The enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla
     2.5 Oujda and the Moroccan-Algerian border
3. Externalisation of border control: political cooperation
4. Shipwrecks and missing people


1 Sea crossings and AP experiences

Sea crossings in the Western Med continue to decline drastically. According to UNHCR data, successful crossings are down 55% in 2019 compared to the same period last year. Land crossings also declined by 11%. As of 27 October, 21,366 sea crossings and 4,968 land crossings have been documented.[3]

The number of Alarm Phone cases in the Western Mediterranean is also much lower than during the previous year. During August and September 2019, the Alarm Phone was alerted to 28 boats in distress in the Strait of Gibraltar, across the Alboran Sea and also on the Western Saharan route towards the Canary islands. Only 15 of the boats were eventually rescued to Spain, 12 were intercepted or returned to Morocco, and for one boat we couldn’t follow up and confirm the probable interception.

From Tangier and its surroundings, less and less people manage to organise their journey across the Strait of Gibraltar, as police repression hinders black people from moving freely in the streets of the city and shared houses are still raided frequently. According to our local Alarm Phone members, these days only very few people ‘touch the water’, most attempts are thwarted by the authorities way beforehand. Police operations also intensified in Nador to such an extent that it became more difficult for the travellers to attempt to cross.

But it is important to remember, that 2018 was an exceptional year for the freedom of movement in the Western Med, and Boza’s in 2019 are still more common than in 2016 and nearly level with 2017 numbers:

Source: UNHCR[4]

The Western Med summer of migration was contained, yes, but the route is still far from being sealed off. There are still days with high numbers of sea entries to Spain, as, for example, 2 September. On that day alone 188 people were rescued to Spain from several boats in the Strait of Gibraltar and the Alboran Sea.[5] 20 days later 115 travellers were rescued by the Salvamento in the Alboran Sea,[6] and on 29 October crossings peaked with around 300 arrivals in less than 24 hours.[7]

By contrast, and presumably in response, the route to the Canary islands is now used much more, with 1489 arrivals documented by UNHCR up until the beginning of November 2019.[8]

More travellers also arrived on the Balearic islands. On 2 September, interestingly, a total of 18 travellers were rescued by a cruise ship. They disembarked on Mallorca.[9] As of 18 September, a total of 78 migrants have been detained after arriving independently on 6 boats on the Balearic Islands.[10] In response, the local government raised concerns with Madrid about a potential new migration corridor and asked the Spanish government for support in order to preemptively block this route.[11]

Ismael Furió, the president of the CGT, the main union of Salvamento Marítimo workers, condemned the changes in structure: “Now nothing is done without the orders of the Single Command, which is a military body directed by the Guardia Civil,” he said to Spanish news site Público. He further explained: “The orders now are to first alert Morocco and then the Guardia Civil. We now only go out if the boat is in Spanish waters… this has become a topic of migration control, not of rescue”.[12] In previous years, the communication between Alarm Phone and Salvamento Maritimo was still a sort of space of negotiation. On several occasions we could convince the Spanish rescue authority to save boats in distress in the Moroccan zone. About one third of the rescues to Spain in 2018 were conducted in the area of Moroccan SAR responsibility.[13] This became almost impossible after the officers of SM were made dependent on orders from the Guardia Civil whose objective is border control, not the saving of life.

If the Moroccan authorities are alerted by Alarm Phone, it is still very haphazard when or if they will launch a rescue mission. According to Manuel Capa from the CGT, when SM is informed about a boat which they refer to Moroccan responsibility, Spain informs the ‘partner’ state and then Morocco takes “whatever measures it thinks necessary”, but Spain makes no checks on the final outcome. The Spanish coordination centre does not enter into Moroccan practices: “if they do not act, no one will know,” said Capa.[14] So the Alarm Phone’s crucial task is to call and call the Moroccan authorities and try to find out information about what actions are in place and whether a rescue went well. SM is simply handing over responsibility and does not show any further commitment.

2 News from the regions

2.1 Tangier and the Strait of Gibraltar    

Repression mechanisms, such as arrests and deportations in Tangier (and other designated areas in Morocco), target travellers that are intercepted at sea as well as those who have lived and worked in Morocco for many years. The frequent deportations from the northern border zones towards the south can be understood as a political method in order to regulate and slow-down migration movements. In this way, the Moroccan officials gain time and a more precise overview of the transit routes. What seems at a first glance like an erratic selection of deportation destinations, with people being sometimes pushed 100km, sometimes up to 2000 km away (Tangier-Dakhla: 1,946km) from their original location, might in fact be a conscious control mechanism of the Moroccan state. Morocco needs to strike a balance between ‘success’ in thwarting irregular migration towards Europe and maintaining pressure on the outer European borders to maintain financial flows towards the Hashemite kingdom. Sub saharan travellers on the move are practically banned from city centres and hence hidden from the view of the Moroccan as well as the European public and political partners. This forms a second method of control.

This perspective of ‘migration flow control’ not only completely disregards the subjectivity of those concerned, of their autonomy of migration, but also the side effects of this constant ‘deportability’.

Social networks are disrupted by the deportations, but, on the other hand, the deported have to reorient themselves again and again, without possessions and often even without a phone. This in fact strengthens community ties, as people rely on mutual support in order to deal with the situation.

For the city of Tangier, the previous northern migration hub across the Strait of Gibraltar, large-scale raids and evictions are nothing new. The neighbourhood of Boukhalef has been evicted so many times, sometimes with lethal violence, that after a mass eviction most of the former residents have left the area and searched for shelter elsewhere or even outside the city.[15] (At the end of 2016, King Mohamed VI launched the second regularisation campaign of paperless travellers. At the same time, ironically, there were extensive checks, arrests and evictions throughout the country as well as deportations to the Algerian border and the south of the country. Women and children were among those deported. This had happened much less in previous years.[16] In 2017, for the first time since 2005, expulsions were conducted not only within the Moroccan state but also to the respective countries of origin.[17] This was ramped up in 2018 and that dynamic has continued throughout 2019, as was reported on by us in our regular publications.)

On 9 August, the police arrested a sick sub saharan national in front of a hospital in Tangier. Our contacts report to AP that the man had a heart disease and carried his medical papers, but nevertheless he was arrested by the authorities and brought to an unknown destination.[18] This is not the first time the Moroccan authorities have forced sick people into overcrowded cells or onto a bus to the south, and we strongly condemn the police’s structural racist and violent actions (as with any arrests and deportation practices)!

Two days later, on 11th of August, 3 AP members were again arrested in Tangier despite possessing legal papers. They were deported to the south. All of them had been arrested and pushed out several times already, as we reported in previous reports. The fact that the same repression mechanisms keep on being repeated means that we have become “used” to messages from our comrades from a deportation bus or a prison cell. This is, on reflection, really very worrying.

On 30 August, a US-American citizen spoke out against his having been arrested in Rabat and expelled to Bni Mellal in March this year, just simply because he was black. Despite his protest, he was arrested and deported with around 30 sub saharan travellers to the south. His experience went viral.[19] This example displays once again the structural racism and racial profiling of the Moroccan police.

Reports about the violent police operations were made throughout the whole period covered by this report:


[“Good morning big family Ap I assure you the time are very heavy in Tanger, arrests that continue massively in the neighbourhoods of tanger, last night three buses full of male, female, pregnant and children have been driven back towards the south”]

[“They continue to enter the migrants’ homes, they chase, they rob and torture with beatings sometimes”]

Tangier was the former migration hub and jumping off point for Sub Saharan travellers trying to reach Europe via the Strait of Gibraltar, which is 14km at its most narrow. These days, Tangier is simply a daily hustle for black people who risk getting caught by the police at any time, at home, in cafés, on the streets, in the market, and who risk being attacked, even in daylight, by gangs and also even by individual perpetrators.

Crossing attempts by sub saharan travellers declined remarkably, as it is not easy to organise crossings and the coastline is heavily militarised. Even if the travellers could reach the water, most of the boats are intercepted by the Moroccan Navy as the Spanish engagement in Search and Rescue reduced significantly.

Maghrebian nationals have different forms and possibility of organisation and still manage from time to time to cross Europe’s southernmost maritime border. Some really remarkable journeys of courageous travellers still result in Boza!, victory!. On 5 September, a fisherman detected just 2 people in distress in a tiny rubber boat, fighting with the waves in the Strait of Gibraltar. He alerted the Spanish rescue organisation Salvamento Marítimo and waited in the vicinity of the boat until the rescue asset arrived.[20] Other remarkable crossings include the convoy of 59 travellers that was rescued to Spain on the 3 August, carrying 7 women, and the incredible number of 51 minors and 1 child (all Maghreb nationals).[21]

2.2 Nador and the forests

The number of crossing attempts from Nador has also declined significantly during the last few months, as has the number of Sub Saharan travellers staying in the forests in the city’s surroundings. Nevertheless, repression and military presence is still intensifying, with the Moroccan forces even installing permanent bases in the forests.One such base is in Bolingo. They are trying, through their constant presence, to deter the travellers from building new camps in the forests. Raids and police operations intensified during the last two months with the Moroccan forces patrolling the forests both day and night. The mountainous terrain, full of rocks and fissures, is a death trap for people fleeing armed assailants in the dead of night.

The situation in the forest displays the intensification of the struggles that travellers in transit in Morocco have to endure. It’s a real fight for the freedom of movement. You must already battle for the freedom to reach the coastline just to try to embark on the risky journey across the sea. A local AP member who has lived for many years in the zone described the forest of Bolingo as it is now as a ‘champs de bataille’, a battlefield, characterised by lootings, arrests, refoulements and deportations. The newspaper ‘El Faro de Ceuta’ cites activists that speak of a full on ‘war’ against travellers in both the border zones and other areas of Morocco.[22]

Without an independent press seeking out and reporting information on the situation of people in transit in the forests around Nador, which are far from the eyes of the public, local non-governmental actors and, most importantly of all, the people personally confronted with the police violence, play a crucial role in transmitting information, voices and pictures. Despite their own precarious limbo, many travellers created social media pages to report incidents, search for missing relatives and friends, and share information. Social media sites have become crucial platforms for empowerment and denunciation of abuse.

The AMDH (Moroccan Human Rights Association) of Nador thoroughly documents and sharply criticises the police operations on their Facebook page and other social media, publishing footage and following up on specific incidents of violence.


Destroyed camp after the police raid. Denunciation on Facebook. Source: AMDH Nador

See also video footage from a police operation published by AMDH here.

During the night from 7 to 8 of September, the Moroccan forces conducted a large scale raid in the forest of Bolingo, where an estimated 2000-3000 sub saharans currently stay in makeshift camps out of sight of the authorities, but under the constant threat of eviction and arrest.[23] During the raid on 7 September, Guinean national Anssou Keita was murdered by club blows on the head when he resisted a Moroccan agent who was trying to steal his mobile phone. 8 other people were badly injured. Anssou’s comrades, protesting next to his dead body, were all arrested and brought to a kind of prison that the Moroccan forces had reopened for just this purpose in the village of Arekmane (20 kilometres from Melilla). In this facility, the 200 arrested travellers were kept locked up in overcrowded conditions, waiting for their deportation to their countries of origin. Local contacts argue that the Moroccan authorities are trying to cover up the incident, hence the arrests of the eye-witnesses, among them women and children.

Omar Naji, president of AMDH in Nador points out, “It [the facility in Arekmane] is an illegal detention centre, there is no legal framework in Morocco that allows for the opening of this type of expulsion centres”. Naji said, protesting because neither he nor anyone from his association have been allowed to enter the Arekmane “prison” to check on the situation of the travellers, “this is a place where people are kidnapped, without the possibility of detainees having access to a lawyer. Last year we were able to document that more than 2,000 immigrants were taken from the forests in more than 340 raids. Those who don’t fit there, more than 9,000, have been taken by bus to the south of the country or to the Algerian border and have been left lying there”.[24]

In the case of the Sub-Saharan travellers arrested at the detention centre in Arekmane after the death of Anssou Keita, some travellers, among them some with residence permits, were deported to their country of origin (Ivory Coast, Mali and Guinea) via the airport in Casablanca. A group of 14 people was deported Tuesday, 10 September to the Algerian border (Touissit region). Since then their whereabouts are unknown. The rest of the group is still kept at the Arekmane detention centre.[25] It was reported that at the end of September the ambassadors of various West and Central African countries arrived in Nador to identify their countries’ nationals in order to facilitate deportations. According to our local contacts, two people of Ivory Coast citizenship have been “falsely” deported to Mali as part of these identification procedures. We could not find official publications or statistics of deportations to countries of origin from Morocco, but according to our observations, the numbers rose significantly in 2019.

Especially in the forest of Bolingo, but also from Selouane, our contacts report intensified raids. One in mid-September saw around 50 people arrested within one operation, among them 12 travellers who were arrested at a roadblock erected by the Moroccan forces. In Bouyafar forest, a woman of Guinean citizenship died on 2 October. Her comrades attribute her death to sickness and the living conditions. They had to leave her body in the camp and run away themselves before the authorities arrived to investigate further. She is one more person denied even a dignified burial by this murderous border.

However, despite the ‘battlefield’-situation, people still manage to cross. The route via the Alboran Sea towards Spain is not sealed off and the future developments remain to be seen. Every few days boats reach Spain via this route. By way of example, on 28 August there were 132 bozas from 2 boats[26]; on 9 September, 79 persons (67 men, 10 women, 2 minors) were rescued in Alboran Sea[27]; or on 17 September, when 80 people were rescued from two boats in the Alboran Sea by Salvamento Marítimo and brought to Spain.[28] At the end of September, a boat with 68 sub saharan passengers, among them 48 women, reportedly arrived safely in Melilla.

2.3 West Sahara: The route to the Canary islands

Arrivals to the Canary islands are still rising in comparison to previous years. Up until the end of October, UNHCR counted 1,470 successful arrivals to the Spanish islands.[29] This is about 21% higher number than during the same period of 2018.[30] The rising numbers are most probably related to the extensive repression of crossings via the northern routes – the same phenomena was visible after the installation of the integrated external monitoring system (SIVE) in the Strait of Gibraltar in 2002, which impeded crossings in that zone, and consequently led to an increase of crossings via the Western Sahara route.

During the first weekend of September alone, 6 boats reportedly reached the Canary islands, carrying in total 113 people.[31] The distances to cover from some beaches of departure are longer than between northern Morocco and the Spanish mainland. On 2 September, Turkish sailors rescued a boat of travellers some 60 nautical miles off Gran Canaria island. [32]

On the 14 September, Alarm Phone was alerted to a boat that had left at 2am CEST from Dakhla, from the very south of West Sahara. This meant that the travellers were attempting just about the longest possible crossing on that route. From Dakhla to the most southern island there are around 270-80 nautical miles to cover, about 500km, across the open ocean. This is impossible to paddle, and the travellers have to rely completely on their engine. Phone coverage is also very limited, so it is next to impossible to track boats via the GPS capabilities of smartphones or to keep in contact with them in any way. In the case of the 14 September, we informed Salvamento Marítimo in Las Palmas, but the 19 people on board had to spend more than 40 hours at sea before they were finally rescued.[33] Sometimes, boats manage in spite of the harsh conditions to reach the islets by their own force. This happened on 17 September when a group of 20 travellers successfully navigated the crossing.[34] Mabrouk! Welcome 2 Europe!

But interceptions and tragedies at sea are also a reality on the West Sahara route. On 11 October, 82 travellers were intercepted by the Moroccan Marine Royale at the point of Lakraa, north of Dakhla. The same day, two bodies were washed ashore on the coast of Oum Lbair. The dead were one child and one adult of sub saharan origin.

In West Sahara travellers also suffer from police violence and deportation policies. On 23 September, some 36 travellers managed to contact an AP member from the inside of a detention center in Dakhla, among them 18 women and 2 children. They report that they had been intercepted at sea two days before and were since kept in the facility in unbearable conditions. We informed local activist groups and tried to keep in touch with the travellers. The next day, one of the women informed us that she was liberated along with the other women, but that she was texting out of a deportation bus, the destination unknown to her. With pressure from local activists most of the men were also liberated later, but one Cameroonian national and two Senegalese were being kept for unknown reasons. They were deported to their countries of origin on Friday 4 October.

On September 30 the police raided houses of travellers in Dakhla. “They arrested 50 of the people, took them to the police, photographed them, and then took fingerprints,” reported a local activist. “Those who held passports were separated from those who did not. From 5pm to 3am, they were kept at the commissary of the Moroccan <<Forces Auxiliaires>>, then 12 of them, including one woman, were brought to a detention facility. According to my source, the passport holders were released, but their passports were confiscated.”

Activist Babacar from Laayoune summarises the situation in West Sahara towards Dossier Libia[35]: “Today, it [the situation of travellers] is becoming more and more difficult: in the last 3 years, following the agreements with the European States, thousands of deported people have arrived [deported from northern Morocco]. The Moroccan police is stealing everything from them and it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to find accommodation. In order to have a roof over their head, they have to adapt to living in very large numbers in houses where hygiene conditions are, to say the least, precarious.” [36] He estimates that currently about 1500 sub saharan travellers stay in Laayoune, many of them on the street. Among them are a high number of women, who are most exposed to violence and exploitation, and unaccompanied minors, many around 14 or 15 years old, who are subjected to labour exploitation. Our comrade also highlights the fact that one of the biggest problems is that those who do not have a document, whether they be women or men, do not even have the right to file a complaint, because, if they did, they would be imprisoned immediately, so the exploiters go unpunished and free.

Babacar explains further:If you are in the south they take you to the north, if you are in the north they take you to the south. They do everything they can to prevent people from leaving, moving them away from the border areas. When the gendarmerie stops you, it arrests you and takes your fingerprints. Every now and then he sends back 4 or 5 people to their countries of origin, but it takes too much money to do it with everyone. All the others are transferred by bus to areas far from those from which they intended to leave for “the coveted Europe”, in a sort of refoulement in half, taking away money, bags, everything. Sometimes, those who have enough money can buy their freedom[…].” In Laayoune, the prison for travellers is a former school: the people are all together in the old classrooms, usually for a maximum of 15 days. Then they are thrown back into the street where they try to organise their departure again.

Travelling towards the north, but also towards Laayoune, is becoming increasingly complicated, as bus companies deny boarding to sub saharan travellers without residence permits. On 29 October, posters attached at several offices of one major bus company in Morocco, CTM, prove the long known fact that the Moroccan authorities are behind this racist practice, and they insist that the bus companies undertake racial profiling:

Source: AP Activist

[“Following the instructions of the authorities, it is strictly forbidden to sell tickets for the CTM to Africans that do not possess a residency or regular transit papers (residency cards), especially towards the destinations in northern and southern Morocco: Tanger, Tetouan, Al Hoceima, Nador, Oujda and Laayoune…

At the time of Check-in, the customer service representatives must check the papers of this category of travellers and must also forbid the irregular immigrants that are in Morocco illegally from boarding the busses.”]

 CTM, despite the multiple reports about the poster by sub- Saharan individuals and associations, denied having issued the paper, but, according to the newspaper Yabiladi, CTM’s agents confirmed that these notes did in fact reflect the policy of the company.[37] How many other companies will follow suit remains to be seen.

Despite citing desperate perspectives, we certainly do not want to forget the empowering moments of success in the struggles. The high number of arrivals to the Canaries proves that migration cannot be contained and that networks of solidarity, both organised and spontaneous, as well as one-off acts of solidarity within the communities in transit and between them and the local population are powerful ties and impossible for state repression to destroy.

2.4 The enclaves: Ceuta and Melilla

For Ceuta and Melilla, 5,832 irregular entries have been counted by UNHCR until 20 October.[38] Land arrivals declined by 11% in comparison to 2018[39]´, but some jumps were successful during the period covered by this report.


On 19 September, 26 travellers successfully jumped the fences of Melilla. The remainder of the group of 60 people was arrested by Moroccan forces. This was the second collective jump of the Melilla fences this summer: In July about 200 people had tried to get over the fence, but only 50 had been successful.[40]

Sea crossings to Melilla still continue as well: In the last week of August alone, 6 boats arrived at the Spanish islet Chafarinas that is located around 1.9 miles from Morocco and 27 miles from Melilla.[41] On 25 August, a boat which arrived at this islet carried 67 persons, among them the remarkable high number of 41 women and 15 children.[42]

On 19 September, a Zodiac rubber boat carrying Syrian nationals capsized near the Moroccan shore close to Arekmane, on the outskirts of Nador. Their boat reportedly collided on the rocks of Arekmane beach. One of the men was transferred by the auxiliary forces to the hospital in critical condition.[43] It is ridiculous that the official asylum office at the border of Melilla cannot be reached and, as a result, even Syrian nationals have to cross via sea or jump fence. 


At Ceuta, as elsewhere, the situation is increasingly difficult in all the different areas of the transit routes to and from the Spanish enclave.

On 30 August, some 155 people managed to jump the fences of Benzu-Benyunes, Ceuta, in a collective attempt to reach Spain via the terrestrial border. Around 8 of them were trapped for a couple of hours on top of the barbed-wire fence, the police waiting for them at the ground, eventually pushed them back to Morocco.[44] With the help of a crane, they were forcibly removed from the fence one by one and, despite being already on Spanish soil, returned to the Moroccan authorities.[45]

Video footage from the newspaper ‘El Faro de Ceuta’ shows the injuries of many of those who managed to escape the authorities, some suffering severely from their eyes having been burned by tear gas.[46]

This is the first big jump since the entry of 116 persons 22 August last year. The 116 were sent back to Morocco after having spent more than 24 hours on Spanish ground. This is the result of a readmission agreement between Morocco and Spain from 1992 which allows for the immediate expulsion of third-country nationals who have crossed illegally into Spain.[47] With this contested collective deportation in mind, the 155 were in fear being sent back and therefore many tried to claim asylum immediately.

Eventually the 155 managed to reach the reception Center CETI, avoiding a direct ‘hot deportation’, although this is what happened to their comrades who were stuck on the fence. Nevertheless, the Spanish Ministry of the Interior has rejected most of the requests for asylum and international protection. Our local contacts estimate that only around 60 requests for international protection were accepted. For the rest, the Spanish Interior Ministry may only be waiting for a decision by Morocco to accept their return under the readmission agreement mentioned above. As of the end of September, no final decision has been publicly announced and the travellers concerned still wait in limbo.[48]

Grande-Marlaska still continues to declare that the barbed-wire concertinas will be removed from the Spanish fences before the end of this year.[49] But when it comes to the concurrent increase in concertinas on the Moroccan part of the border zone, Marlaska simply claims: “I say again that we absolutely respect the sovereignty of the Moroccan authorities to determine its border perimeter”.[50]

At the same time, Vox, the ultra right wing party, is agitating for the construction of concrete walls around Ceuta and Melilla and for the border police to be allowed to use riot control equipment, such as rubber balls and electric pistols.[51]

This brings to mind the events of 6 February 2014, when at least fourteen travellers who were trying to swim around the fence were murdered by the Spanish Guardia Civil, who shot rubber bullets and tear gas at the swimmers. The official records counted 14 victims, but our friends and comrades that were among the group of several hundreds of people that had collectively tried to overcome the border report that many more went missing. Only 23 travellers managed to reach the Spanish shore in the lethal chaos which unfolded at Tarajal, but they were pushed back to Morocco immediately.

After two attempts by the same court to dismiss the case, the head of Ceuta’s investigative court is currently prosecuting 16 officers of the Guardia Civil for the crimes of homicide, gross negligence and denial of aid on that horrible day.[52] On 2 October, the Spanish Government responded to the prosecution with the ridiculous defence that there would have been “no death on the Spanish side of the sea”. The lawyers in a bizarre understanding of the law make the further submissions that “the 23 immigrants who accessed the beach ceutí del Tarajal, either by their own means, or aided by maritime services, did so in perfect health, and for that reason could be rejected at the border immediately”.[53] A friend of Alarm Phone was among the travellers who were pushed-back. Reading this statement makes us angry. It is ridiculous and macabre to ascribe ‘perfect health’ to the ones who had just managed to escape hell at sea, who had tear gas and rubber bullets shot around them in the water, and who had seen friends drown and fight for survival.

For the government’s lawyers, the action of the agents was “proportional” because “the anti-riot means were launched, at first, with the purpose of containment, and then with the idea of prolonging the physical border between Ceuta and Morocco, along the line of the sea, and later to channel the immigrants who had reached Spanish waters to the beach as a safe area, preventing them from swimming out to sea“. This defence, published by El Diario, is equally ridiculous. It is incredible that they propose that the officers were shooting tear gas and rubber bullets to ‘guide’ the travellers ‘safely’ in the direction of the shore. It would be an odd sort of human who needed that kind of guidance in order to be able to distinguish between the open sea and a clearly visible beach.

We will continue to follow up on the court proceedings and demand justice for our murdered friends and comrades…

On 15 October, another court issued a verdict which we sharply condemn:

The Provincial Court of Cadiz in Ceuta passed the first sentence to nine of the 602 travellers who had jumped the fence of Ceuta on 26 July 2018. They will face a term of one year and six months in prison, allegedly for organising the jump.[54] “The population is accustomed to hearing the word immigration followed by organised crime and other crimes, and this sentence reinforces that discourse once again, as it links irregular migration with criminality,” points out Apdha, La Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía, criticising the verdict sharply.[55]

Even if travellers manage to reach Ceuta safely, they are still blocked from ongoing travels. Alarm Phone activist Reduan MJ reports: “the desperation of the Algerian and Moroccan travellers that reside currently and for many months in the reception center Ceti grows. Many of them do not receive the ‘salida’, the transfer papers to the Spanish mainland, before 2 or 3 years. That’s why they are forced to try to reach the Spanish peninsula by risky illegalized routes, i.e. by the port in caravans, trucks or boats. There are also pateras (rubber dinghies) leaving from Ceuta. Many of the crossing attempts are thwarted by the port police, and many travellers have been arrested during the attempts. The security and control mechanisms at the port area have been strongly reinforced lately. Especially the minors are removed from the port area with all kinds of pressure by the police” reports Reduan. Desperation led to a suicide attempt of a Moroccan man trying to hang himself on 12 October in the CETI. He was saved thanks only to the actions of his roommates. The man was transferred to the hospital and survived.[56]

Repression measures include deportations: 14,000 Moroccan minors who entered Spain illegally will soon be repatriated. Several sources indicate that both States were able to reach an agreement for these minors to return home in successive waves. This partnership has been called for by officials in Ceuta and Melilla, who have repeatedly expressed their concerns about migratory pressure.[57]

2.5 Oujda and the Moroccan-Algerian border zone

The city of Oujda, located in northern Morocco at the border to Algeria, is also a point of entry for travellers opting for the Western Mediterranean Route(s) to Europe, as well as a point of departure for those who are tired of the repression and high numbers of interceptions in the Moroccan state and who chose to continue towards Libya in order to try their fate via the Central Mediterranean Route. The border has been officially closed since 1994. Crossings are highly dangerous, with a huge ditch and fences to overcome. A local mafia facilitate the crossings and in many cases abuse the power which accrues to them because of the desperation of the travellers and the official closure of the border.

Oujda and Algeria were for many years designated destinations for refoulements conducted by the Moroccan state. In 2015, however, the destination shifted more towards the border of West Sahara and cities such as Tiznit in the very south of the state. Recently, Oujda seems to be the destination of choice once again for refoulements. The not so subtle intention may be that some may leave Morocco in order to continue to find a way to Europe elsewhere. The Algerian-Moroccan border zone is most lethal in winter time, as the cold and the ditch that travellers must cross is a dangerous combination: On October 22nd the corpse of a 30-40 years old sub saharan man was found on the moroccan side of the border, probably dead due to the cold and exhaustion. This was the second body found within a week.

The refoulements and the dangerous border crossing situation are not the only concerns in Oujda. In the city itself, police operations continue to hinder travellers from recovering and organising their next steps in peace. During the period covered in this report, several larger police operations were conducted, mainly in the neighbourhood of Andalouse, as, for example, on 11 August, where a large group of people was forced into busses with unknown destination. On 20 September the authorities entered 4 houses where sub saharan travellers resided and destroyed all their belongings, and on 23 September, 92 people were arrested in a major operation, among them 23 minors. 23 persons driven back towards the Algerian border the same day.

There are various testimonies of forced deportations to the Algerian border zone south-east of Oujda. One person reported to AMDH that he was intercepted at sea during a crossing attempt in the Strait of Gibraltar on September 15. He was among a group of 12 travellers, that were then deported more than 700 km to Oujda. Arriving there, they had to spend the night in a military barrack, and were then forcibly and violently led by soldiers to the Algerian border.[58]

Whether the Algerian forces are complicit in these forced returns remains unknown, though the group from Tangier has not been arrested by Algerian forces upon arrival, which leads to the assumption that the Moroccan forces acted on their own and the return had not been coordinated with the Algerian military.

We cannot expand the scope of our analysis by reporting from Algeria extensively in these reports, but it has to be mentioned that upon arrest in Algeria, travellers risk deportation further south towards Niger and the desert. These chained deportations create a sort of conveyor belt dragging people from the Mediterranean coast to the middle of the Sahara desert. The net result is highly dangerous. Deportees are left without basic provisions in the middle of nowhere in the desert. It should also be mentioned that the conditions in the Algerian detention camps are horrific. On the 9 August, we received footage from a detention camp in Tlemcen, an Algerian village close to the Moroccan border, where about 50 Sub Saharans where detained at the time, waiting for their deportation towards Niger. [59]

But there are also empowering stories to be told. For more than a year, Alarm phone Oujda is in contact with the families of disappeared Moroccan travellers. On AP’s initiative, Moroccan families have come together several times in order to create synergies, share experiences and to organise commemoration events. This process is very important for the families that do not want their missed ones to be forgotten. Crossings also continue from this part of Morocco continue, although many are still lethal:

On 16 September, a shipwreck occurred at the Algerian coast, at the Oran headland. From a group of 16 people, all Moroccan nationals, only 8 survived. 5 people went missing at sea and 3 dead bodies could be retrieved from the zodiac rubber boat that had originally departed from Morocco towards the Spanish coast but then drifted towards Algeria.

On 25 September, finally, after pressure from the families and associations of their home town Taourirt, different NGOs as well as Alarm Phone Oujda, the three bodies were repatriated via the terrestrial border. The border post Zouj Bghal between Oujda and Magnia was opened specifically for this purpose. NGO representatives had travelled to Oran to negotiate the repatriation and the Algerian authorities acceded to their requests.[60] This short-term opening of the Algerian-Moroccan border was a historical moment for the region.

In Algeria, the harraga take to the sea again. Our local contacts report that after several months of calm, “the phenomenon of illegal emigration is back in full force”. More than 500 people, young and old, minors and even women have tried during August and September to reach the other side of the Mediterranean via boat. The Alarm Phone is still barely known among the Algerian harraga, so for now we are trying to observe the developments and to collect more information.

According to the Ministry of Defence, dozens of attempts to emigrate from the coasts of Boumerdès, Tipasa, Oran, Mostaganem and Annaba were recorded. In September, 382 harraga were intercepted, 7 bodies were recovered and 14 people were rescued from certain death after their boat had sunk.

Many journeys were also successful: On 6 October, the Spanish press reported on 5 boats from Algeria that arrived independently on the coast of Cartagena within one single day.[61] Future developments of departures from Algeria remain to be observed.

On 24 September, the shipwreck of a boat that had left from Algeria resulted in ridiculous and dreadful charges on the survivors by the Spanish judiciary:

11 years-old Ayman drowned when the boat he was trying to reach Spain with flipped – the 6 adults on board, Algerian nationals, survived, among them a relative. The travellers reported that the constant movement of the petrol drums caused the accident and that they did not have life vests. That resulted in the drowning of the little boy, who could not swim and who could not stand the onslaught of the sea like the others, who clung to the bottles and the boat until the arrival of the rescue teams. Incredibly, after this horrible tragedy, the adults are now being prosecuted for “reckless homicide”! The police transferred them to the Foreigners Internment Centre (CIE) in Sangonera (Murcia) – the judgement remains to be seen.[62]

3 Externalisation of border control: political cooperation

Spain and Morocco are going through a moment of collaboration and understanding that has rarely been seen in recent years. Between the first meeting of Spanish Interior Minister Grande-Marlaska and his Moroccan counterpart, Abdeluati Latfit, in June 2018, several important events have taken place which have led to an improvement in cooperation, and in the last 14 months the two heads of the Interior ministries have met on seven occasions in total.

The most crucial factor for the improved collaboration is the constant and substantial aid provided by the European Union, granted after Spain’s insistence in Brussels: €140 million was agreed, of which Spain has already disbursed €26 million, with an additional €32.3 million set aside this August by the Spanish government for Morocco to reinforce border control. This is just the tip of the iceberg of the enormous financial flows from the EU to Morocco: Through the European Neighbourhood Partnership (ENP) Morocco has received since 2014 €236 million for border reinforcement.[63][64]

Apart from the financial benefits, Morocco uses its position as a key player within the EU border regime to ensure silence about its illegal annexation of the West Sahara and to pursue other domestic interests.

According to Grande-Marlaska, arrivals to the Spanish coasts have been reduced this year by up to 45%.[65] In his last meeting with his counterpart, he thanked Morocco for its “loyalty” and its “enormous efforts” to stop the arrival of boats on the Spanish coasts.

The Spanish king, Philip VI, also thanked the king of Morocco, Mohammed VI, during their meeting in February, for Morocco’s success in containing migration to Spain. According to the Moroccan government, this year more than 57,000 departures to Spain have been thwarted by the Moroccan forces about a hundred “immigrant trafficking networks” have been dismantled.[66]

The unlawful conditions and rights violations that this ‘success’ is based on are simply blanked out or silently tolerated by the EUropean authorities. Physical violence and even murder – we wrote above of the murder of Anssou Keita by a police officer on 7 September during a raid -, unlawful arrests and totally arbitrary deportations – again a reminder of the two men from Ivory coast, accidentally deported to Mali (see above) – are conducted by the same authorities who are being praised for their actions. The AMDH pretty much nails it in their Facebook post:

“Marathon meetings between the Moroccan and Spanish Interior Ministers in Rabat. They want to strengthen more of that which they call border control. This means more violations, more arrests, more illegal deportations and repression. Of course no words about the dead, the wounded, about the suffering of migrants in the forests. If the realisation of these politics of repression already started at Nador, with the mobilisation of military, it is our task, the task of all activist associations to continue to denounce these conventions between Morocco and Spain and to show their true inhumane face.[67]

4 Shipwrecks and missing people

As of 7 November, 417 people have drowned in the Western Mediterranean region and the route to the Canary islands this year. These are the figures counted by the Missing Migrants project. It is more than likely that other people died without a trace.[68] In the whole Mediterranean Sea (plus the route to Canaries), 1183 deaths have been recorded. As the other regions have seen a much larger number of crossings this year than the Western Med, these figures show that the crossings from Morocco to Spain are highly dangerous. A danger compounded by the reduction of rescue assets on this route.[69]


On the 2nd of August, a dead body was retrieved from the waters off Ceuta by the Guardia Civil.[70]


On the 29th of August, 33 people tried to reach the Canary Islands on a rubber boat. The boat capsized, and only 9 people could be rescued from the Moroccan Marine Royale. But of the 24 passengers who went missing at sea without a trace only one body could be recovered.The others disappeared without a trace.


On the 3rd of September, only 2 people could be rescued from a group of 17 who embarked in Algeria heading towards Spain. The boat had been drifting 5 days at sea when Salvamento Maritimo found it. 15 lost their lives during this tragic journey…[71]


On the 5th of September, 4 young Moroccan men from the Rif region left the shore of Bouyafar beach close to Nador in order to reach Ceuta/Spain via jet ski. They never reached it and went missing.[72]


On the 16th of September, a boat sank near Oran, Algeria. From the 16 people on board, only 8 survived, 5 are still missing, 3 dead bodies could be recovered.


On the 18th of September, a body of a sub saharan man was found at the beach of Bouyafar/Nador.


On the 18th of September, 9 people were confirmed to have died and 4 others went missing in a shipwreck off the Algerian coast close to Cape Djinet. Only 5 people survived the tragedy.[73]


On the 24th of September, 11 year-old Ayman from Mostaganem, Algeria, drowned when the boat in which he was trying to reach Spain capsized – the 6 adults on board survived, among them a relative.[74]


On 25th of September, one person was recovered dead from a sinking boat off Tipaza, Algeria, and one person went missing. 6 survivors were rescued. [75]


On Friday 27th of September, one person drowned off Tenes, Algeria, while the 5 other travellers could be rescued.[76]


On 28th of September, 18 people were confirmed to have died and 35 others went missing in a shipwreck close to the coast of Mohammedia in Western Morocco.[77]


On the 28th of September, the corpse of a 10-year old child was retrieved from the sea off Oran, Algeria.[78]


On the 4th of October, a 6-years-old child died during the boat journey across the Albóran Sea that he started with his mother and 64 other passengers, all from sub saharan Africa. The vessel was detected by a ferry and rescued by a Frontex asset. The child died during the emergency rescue to Alméria by helicopter.[79]


On the 11th of October, two bodies were washed ashore at the coast of Oum Lbair, one child and one adult of sub saharan origin.


On the 27th of October, an Algerian national is pulled dead by Salvamento out of the Alboran Sea. [80]


On the 29th of October, from a boat carrying 34 travellers, 4 people died while trying to reach the Canary islands, one other person remains missing.[81]





















[18] Some weeks later, we learnt that the man had returned to Senegal.

















[35] Dossier Libia is an online collection of violations at the externalized outer European border in north Africa




























[63] In addition, Morocco has been supported since 2014 with more than one billion euros for its socio-political development, for example in the health and social sectors and in democratisation processes.