MIGRATIONEU Migration Control: Morocco's Growing Role

By Jennifer Holleis

Published 20 January 2024

Morocco intensifies its gatekeeper role in EU migration, stopping 87,000 migrants in 2023. Key to the deal is European acceptance of Morocco’s claim to disputed Western Sahara.

Morocco is taking its role as gatekeeper of migration toward Europe increasingly seriously. According to a recent statement by the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces, around 87,000 migrants were stopped in 2023, a steep increase compared to around 56,000 between January and August 2022.

The majority were arrested near Morocco’s western coastline, the army stated. From there, the Spanish Canary Islands are only around 100 kilometers (62 miles) away.

Between January and November 2023, however, 56,852 people also arrived on the Canary Islands via that route. This marks a record increase of 82% compared to 2022, according to a recent statementby the European Council. 

However, not all of the arrivals depart from Morocco. Many board small vessels or inflatable boats along the west coast of Africa.

In 2023, a record number of people also drowned in the Atlantic Ocean.

According to the Spanish non-profit organization Caminando Fronteras, most of the 6,618 deaths — more than double the previous year’s number — occurred between Morocco and the Canary Islands,

There are many reasons why the so-called ‘Western route’ is increasingly being used, above all, because the other routes are even more dangerous,” Sonja Hegasy, vice director of the German research center Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient, told DW.

Conditions in Libya are much harsher, for instance, as aspiring migrants are brutally pushed back and locked up in inhumane prisons. Other North African countries are not known for their soft handling of migrants either, Hegasy added.

Morocco’s Migration Pact
In the future, Morocco’s role as a European Union migration gatekeeper is likely to intensify. After no less than seven years of negotiations, Morocco and the EU finally agreed on a migration pact in December 2023.

Hans Leijtens, executive director of Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, promptly paid a visit to Rabat to strengthen dialogue and cooperation with Morocco’s border management authorities.

Morocco stands out as a crucial partner in Africa,” Leijtens said in a statement

It is important to stress that while the migration pact has been agreed upon, we’re very far from the pact being implemented,” Camille Le Coz, associate director at the Migration Policy Institute Europe, told DW.

It is a political agreement that will mobilize EU budgets and staff to set up the infrastructure so that the migration pact will become reality in a few years,” Le Coz explained.