New countries of settlement
On August 19th I observed as some three hundred people — migrants, activists and a few officials — gathered outside a morgue in Rabat to mourn the death of a twenty-four year old Senegalese man who had been murdered the week before. According to a migrant rights activist affiliated with the Conseil des Migrants Subsahariens au Maroc, the Senegalese man was stabbed after refusing to give up his seat to a Moroccan man on a bus traveling from Rabat to Fez. Local and international articles reporting on the man’s death the following week focused on whether or not the murder was an isolated incident or indicative of a larger human rights problem in Moroccan society. One only has to look at the string of violent attacks emanating from Northern coastal cities and from the border with Algeria over the past several years to be sure that this was not an isolated incident. As this article will explain, this perceived increase in the number of attacks and human rights violations toward migrants is a direct result of increasingly stringent Western migration policies, which are transforming Morocco and other Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) states into countries of settlement ‘by default.’
The closing of legal routes and methods of spatial control
The treatment of migrants once they have arrived on Western countries’ territories has improved over the last three decades. Western states are bound by ideologies that dictate the equal treatment of migrants once they reside on host territories and the extension of citizenship-like rights to non-citizens – immigrants, refugees and even ‘illegal’ migrants—is now commonplace in most Western democracies. Yet at the same time, Western states have also taken steps to further control which persons manage to reach and successfully cross their borders. States are accommodating and welcoming of migrants once they manage to penetrate a Western state’s border, but in order to prevent unwanted migrants from doing so, Western states have found new means of fortifying their territories. This process manifests itself both physically (such as the United States’ amplification of the wall along its Southern border with Mexico) and through technological means (biometric scanning systems, enhanced passports, etc.). New means of immigration control have even extended beyond the state itself, in both concrete forms (such as zones established for policing illegal migrants within the territory of another state), as well as through more subtle ‘soft power’ mechanisms (coercing or threatening other states to more effectively counter unauthorized migration).
Goldschmidt (2006) argues that when the EU created the ‘Schengen space,’ an internal zone of free movement, in 1985 it also barred legal entry to migrants from developing countries. Since this time it has granted continually fewer visas for migrants coming from developing countries in all immigration categories, despite an increase in the number of aspiring immigrants (ibid). European governments have also been pressuring North African countries to bolster border security in order to curb illegal migration, instigated primarily by the Italian Berlusconi government in 2008 (Boubakri 2013). Concurrently, after the embargo had been lifted on Libya, EU states used the incentive of increased trade and the normalization of relations to compel the Gaddafi regime to adapt its migration policies to fit EU objectives, resulting in the establishment of Italian-Libyan joint patrols in Libyan and international waters in 2008 (ibid). Tunisia and Morocco also conformed their immigration policies during the same time period, and it has subsequently become extremely difficult and costly for ‘irregular’ migrants, as well as legal migrants, to successfully cross into Europe.
Post-9/11 the United States has also reduced the number of migrants it is willing to accept through its formal immigration process. Additionally, migrants hoping to pursue political asylum in the United States must reach its territory or already be present in order to apply, and post-9/11 immigration-related security have made gaining access to American soil more difficult (Kerwin 2011). These events have implications for migrants attempting to apply for immigration via formal avenues, as well as for refugees attempting to successfully navigate the official UNHCR resettlement route. It is important not to entirely conflate recent trends in European and North American migration policies as there are important ideological differences affecting the citizen-state dialectic in both regions that have implications for migration policies. Nonetheless, those states generally considered to be the world’s primary ‘immigrant receivers’ – namely, the US, Europe and Australia — have enacted a series of progressively restrictive migration controls over the past decade that are affecting migration patterns elsewhere.
Stuck in Transit
In 2011 the OECD estimated that ten to fifteen percent of the world’s total migrants are ‘illegal’ (OECD 2011). This is indicative of the fact that the hardening of borders and the imposition of new intensive security measures do not successfully deter migrants from passing into their desired destination territories. While Western countries continue to restrict access through new, enhanced methods, migrants continue to leave their home states, often becoming ‘stuck’ in countries that they only hoped to pass through for transit purposes. In the North African case, states that have traditionally been considered countries of emigration are now being transformed into migrant-receiving countries. Thousands of Sub-Saharan Africans who hoped to reach Europe or to be resettled with the aid of international agencies attempt to pass through this region, but rather than return home if they are unable to reach Western countries, they remain in these host states indefinitely. Many cannot return due to persecution, but others simply cannot afford the return journey or they find that the socio-economic situation in the transit host country is still relatively better than that in their home state.
While many migrants settle without the permission of host governments, these states unofficially permit the continued presence of migrants on their territories through both their inability to successfully prevent migrants from entering their borders and through their ambivalence and neglect of those migrants who choose to settle. Consequently, several MENA states are now among the countries with the highest percentages of non-citizen immigrants in the resident population. This transformation – from emigration to immigration country – may prove particularly challenging for migrants to MENA states because citizenship policies are highly stringent. In most other countries around the world, children born on a territory can access citizenship even if their parents are not able to do so. However in MENA countries, citizenship is effectively closed to non-Arabs because of the extremely limited role of jus soli – in most cases, nationality can only be passed through paternal blood descent.
Bargaining for Rights
Despite limited access to citizenship in MENA host states, there are factors that may prove to work in the favor of Sub-Saharan migrants. In the example of Morocco, the government is a strong advocate of rights for Moroccans residing in Europe, consistently lobbying the EU government to protect its nationals abroad. Could this currently hypocritical policy of advocating for rights on behalf of its nationals but denying rights to migrants on its own territory eventually necessitate that the government of Morocco take steps to assist Sub-Saharan migrants? In a meeting on September 10, 2013 between King Mohammed VI and several political officials there was discussion of drafting a new ‘comprehensive policy on immigration’ that will attempt to normalize the situation of all migrants in Morocco, whether from Sub-Saharan Africa or elsewhere (North Africa Post 2013). There was even use of the term ‘integration’ during the meeting, and thus acknowledgement that these migrants will not be returning to their home countries in the near future, though the King’s Office also noted in its press statement that it would not be able to provide integration for ‘all’ migrants wishing to settle in the country. The statement also denied the use of ‘systematic violence by the police,’ directly contravening the findings of the final report released by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) before the group shut down its Moroccan operations in March of 2013 in objection to the violence.
This meeting on a new immigration policy may have simply been ‘cheap talk’ in the face of allegations over migrant abuse emanating from various NGOs, especially considering that organizations like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) claim the Moroccan government has been discussing such reform for years without any tangible action. Yet another factor that migrants may have on their side is that the government of Morocco, like the governments of all countries receiving ‘unsolicited’ migrants, is in fact heavily reliant upon such migration to fill gaps in its labor force. The Moroccan economy benefits hugely from the presence of migrants who fill positions in the informal economy – primarily in the fields of construction, farming, homecare (for females), and security (car watch) – because papers are not checked and the jobs are non-contracted. While the crucial economic role that migrants play may not be an incentive for the Moroccan government to regularize the status of Sub-Saharans, it certainly constitutes an important bargaining chip for migrants and the advocacy organizations working on their behalf to use when lobbying the government for access to public services and human rights protection.
As de Hass (2007) notes, an often cited ‘smart solution’ to the ‘problem’ of migration is to increase development aid to poor countries in the hopes that this will curb the desire to migrate, despite the fact that empirical evidence strongly suggests that economic and human development tends to increase peoples’ aspirations and thus increase emigration. Such policy choices, along with the implementation of new forms of spatial and territorial control, are indicative of the total absence of understanding why people choose to migrate. As this article has discussed, increasingly restrictive immigration policies and the militarization of external border controls are not curbing migration but are instead transforming transit countries, including those of North Africa, into countries of settlement. Regardless of the desires of either EU states or the governments of North African countries, migration is likely to continue unabated. The important question at present is how new countries of settlement will respond to these patterns, and whether they will learn from the mistakes and false assumptions of older migrant receiving countries in developing policies of immigration and integration.
- The phrase ‘by default’ is aptly used by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to capture Morocco’s new status as a country of immigration (IOM 2013).
- The research of immigration scholars such as Brubaker (1992), Bosniak (2008) and Joppke (2009) examines how liberal democracies, which require an agreement between elected officials and the governed, would be violated by the long-term presence of sizeable alien populations, thus forcing these countries to adopt inclusive citizenship policies.
- According to de Hass (2007) it cost between US$ 800 and US$ 1,200 for sub-Saharan Africans to cross between Morocco and Spain in 2003. A sub-Saharan migrant I recently interviewed in Rabat quoted the current price for the same voyage at 2,000 Euros, or approximately US$2,660.
- These ideological differences are evident at the policy level and both would-be migrants through quotas for specific categories or migrants and family reunification policies, as well as for migrants who have arrived in-country through procedures such as citizenship tests.
Bosniak, Linda, 2008. The Citizen and the Alien: Dilemmas of Contemporary Membership. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Boubakri, Hassan, 2013. Revolution and International Migration in Tunisia. Migration Policy Centre (MPC) Research Report 2013/14, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, San Domen [on-line]. Available at: http://www.migrationpolicycentre.eu/docs/MPC-RR-2013-04.pdf [Accessed on September 20, 2013].
Brubaker, Ranier. Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992.
de Haas, Hein. 2007. Turning the Tide? Why Development Will Not Stop Migration. Development and Change, 38(5), pp. 819-841.
Goldschmidt, Elie, 2006. Storming the Fences: Morocco and Europe’s Anti-Migration Policy. Middle East Research and Information Project [on-line]. Available at: http://www.merip.org/mer/mer239/storming-fences [Accessed on September 14, 2013].
IOM, 2013. International Organization for Migration – Morocco. Available at: http://www.iom.int/cms/morocco [Accessed on September 20, 2013].
Joppke, Christian, 2010. Citizenship and Immigration. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Kerwin, Donald M, 2011. The Faltering U.S. Refugee Protection System: Legal and Policy Responses to Refugees, Asylum-Seekers, and Others in Need of Protection. Migration Policy Institute [on-line]. Available at: http://www.migrationpolicy.org/pubs/refugeeprotection-2011.pdf [Accessed on September 14, 2013].
Lebbar, Sabah, 2013. Morocco Poised to Adopt New Comprehensive Policy on Immigration. North Africa Post [on-line] September 10. Available at: http://northafricapost.com/4278-morocco-poised-to-adopt-new-comprehensive-policy-on-immigration.html [Accessed on September 14, 2013].
OECD, 2011. Tackling the Policy Challenges of Migration: Regulation, Integration, Development. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Paris: OECD.