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IMMIGRATION

‘Spain and Morocco must end migrant abuse’

Human Rights Watch has called on Morocco and Spain to end the abusive treatment of sub-Saharan immigrants, after at least nine migrants drowned trying to reach the Spanish territory of Ceuta last Thursday.

'Spain and Morocco must end migrant abuse'
Moroccan security forces have increasingly come under fire for beating, arbitrarily detaining and deporting illegal immigrants.File Photo: Marcos Moreno/AFP

Morocco has struggled to cope with a rising tide of sub-Saharan Africans heading to its northern shores in their desperate quest to cross the Mediterranean, and its security forces have increasingly come under fire for beating, arbitrarily detaining and deporting illegal immigrants.

Rabat launched an operation in January to regularise the situation of migrants and grant them residency permits, in the face of allegations that several of them had died at the hands of the police last year.

But HRW said, in a 79-page report launched in Rabat, that despite some improvement since the new migration policy was announced in September, the security forces "commonly beat, otherwise abuse and sometimes steal" from sub-Saharan migrants.

"Morocco should make clear to its security forces that migrants have rights," said HRW refugee program director Bill Frelick, urging Rabat to introduce "firm procedures" to ensure those rights are respected.

HRW also criticised the Spanish security forces for using "excessive force when they summarily expel migrants" from their north African territories of Ceuta and Melilla, Europe's only land borders with Africa.

"(Spain's expulsion of illegal immigrants violates) international and European Union (EU) law, which prohibit countries from forcibly returning anyone to a place where they would face a real risk of being subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment," the report said.

"Spanish authorities should also ensure diligent investigations of allegations of excessive use of force by its own forces… against migrants."

On Thursday, nine sub-Saharans, including one women, drowned while trying to swim to Ceuta, after hundreds of migrants headed out to sea from the Moroccan town of Fnideq.

Spanish media and rights groups cited migrants alleging that police fired into the sea where the Africans were swimming as Moroccan and Spanish security forces tried to repel them from Ceuta.

But the Spanish authorities denied the allegation, saying that civil guards in Ceuta did use rubber bullets to ward off the migrants but fired into the air and did not target anyone directly.

"We did not use anti-riot equipment when the immigrants were in the water," said the head of the Spanish government's delegation in Ceuta, Francisco Antonio Gonzalez.

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POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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