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Refuge and Asylum | Morocco |

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Refuge and Asylum

Hein de Haas

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According to a recent empirical study, the percentage of migrants in Morocco that would require humanitarian protection varies from 10-20% under the strict application of the 1951 refugee Convention definition, to 70-80% under more generous humanitarian measures. It is sometimes difficult to make a sharp distinction between political and economic migrants, because individual motivations are often complex, mixed and may change over time. Some migrants who set out with primarily economic motivations may become less voluntary migrants along the way when exploited by employers, arbitrarily imprisoned, maltreated, and stripped of their remaining assets by North African police or border guards.

However, the Moroccan state tends to consider virtually all sub-Saharan immigrants in Morocco as "economic migrants" on their way to Europe. This means asylum-seekers are commonly rejected at the border or deported as "illegal economic immigrants" even though Morocco is party to the 1951 Geneva Convention and has a formal system for adjudicating asylum applications, which is, however, barely functional. Until recently, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) kept a low profile in Morocco and protection was not thought to be available among refugees and asylum seekers.

Under the influence of increasing immigration, UNHCR has recently been seeking to expand its operations in Morocco. However, state authorities often do not cooperate, continue to deport asylum seekers, and generally refuse to grant residency and other rights to refugees recognized by UNHCR. Human rights organisations have therefore argued that European states such as Spain and Italy risk seriously compromising the principle of non-refoulement by swiftly deporting African migrants and asylum-seekers to Morocco (and Libya) where their protection is not guaranteed.

It has therefore been argued that Europe's policy to externalise border controls towards countries with poor human rights records and inadequate refugee protection may potentially jeopardize the rights and security of the migrants, including asylum-seekers and refugees.

However, in 2007 the Moroccan government signed an accord de siège with UNHCR giving them full-fledged representation in Morocco. This might signify a gradual improvement of the situation of asylum-seekers and refugees in Morocco. By the end of 2007, 786 refugees recognised by UNHCR were living in Morocco and 671 asylum seekers had their cases pending with UNHCR. However, even refugees recognised as such are generally not granted residency status by the Moroccan authorities. Therefore, they also lack rights to employment, education, and health care.



  1. See Collier (2006). It should be mentioned that his sample was not designed to be representative and is likely to be biased towards refugees and asylum-seekers.

  2. See Lindstrom (2002).

  3. See de Haas (2007d).

  4. Lutterbeck (2006).

  5. See de Haas (2007d).

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