Morocco and Turkey have the European Union by the short hairs. “Do as we say, or we’ll send you more migrants” has become a major element of their foreign policy.
Gary Fouse, who translated the following article, includes this introductory note:
The writer of this piece is only 19 years old. His article is part of a series of articles in this Dutch paper Elsevier Podium by young writers. Given the Moroccan situation in the Netherlands, it is quite timely.
The translated article:
Morocco uses migration as a weapon against the weak EU
While Greece and Italy are always struggling with the inflow of illegal immigration, the European border in Spain is also certainly not watertight. There the Moroccan government uses migration as a weapon to blackmail the EU, writes Leon Baten in an article for EW Podium.
Monday, 17 May 2021. An exceptionable day in the Spanish port city of Ceuta. There is panic; the air raid siren sounds. Where the Spanish coast is known for its nightlife, tapas, and the sun, in Ceuta it is a different story. This Spanish enclave on the North African continent, situated on the Strait of Gibraltar, has fallen prey to an unprecedented invasion. At the break of dawn, 8,000 asylum seekers begin their storming of Europe at the Spanish city of 84,000 residents. Thousands of men climb over the fences, sail boats onto the beaches, and run into the city. They found a weak spot in the European border: The Moroccan-Spanish border at Ceuta.
Schengen in Africa
In recent years, Spanish Ceuta, bordering Morocco, has become part of the new western asylum route. A couple of hundred kilometers further east lies Melilla, the other Spanish enclave in Africa bordering on Morocco.
As autonomous cities, they are part of the EU, albeit with a number of important exceptions. EU regulations pertaining to customs policy and the common commercial policies do not apply to Ceuta and Melilla; the same with the free traffic of goods and the European fishing and agricultural policies. On the other hand, there are no exemptions, deviations, or exceptions regarding immigration under EU law, so that in Ceuta and Melilla the same EU legal framework applies as in the rest of Spain.
Whenever an asylum seeker sets foot in Ceuta or Melilla, that is automatically on European territory. And one foot on European territory means the right to an asylum procedure. Asylum procedures that sometimes last years, and with which the Spanish government has its hands full. Many asylum seekers are sent back, but with certain groups, including minors, in practice that is much harder.
The situation is precarious. When the two mini-enclaves are overrun by refugees, Europe is effectively overrun. But Spain logically doesn’t worry about giving up Ceuta and Melilla, which from an EU point of view, would be very appealing. Ceuta and Melilla are free ports and thus, an important factor in Spanish commerce.
Back to May 17 of this year. Under the rising sun, it seems like a peaceful morning in Ceuta. But Spain and Morocco are on a collision course with each other after the Spanish government offered humanitarian help to the escaped leader of Polisario — an independence movement that is in fierce resistance to the regime of Mohammed VI and fights for an independent Western Sahara.
That conflict brutally disturbs the morning calm: By the border crossings on the coast, dozens of North African migrants literally swim to Europe through the water. The Moroccan Coast Guard stands there and looks on. “Everywhere Moroccans and migrants from other parts of Africa walk around helplessly while tanks drive through the streets. I’ve never seen anything like this before. Here in Ceuta, we are paying the price for an international conflict between Morocco and Spain,” one resident tells a Spanish journalist.
Since the peak in May, things have only gotten worse in the Spanish enclaves. Two weeks ago it happened again, this time in Melilla. An estimated 300 North African migrants stormed the border fences, and a majority reached Europe.
There are countless examples of incidents that are traced back to deliberate blackmail by a furious Morocco, which decided to open the gates to Europe, with all the results that ensue. Moroccan border guards show the migrants the way. And they come. Thousands at a time.
The Turkey deal and other migration routes
In 2016 the EU made a deal with Turkey to tackle the refugee crisis. In exchange for €6 billion and the reception of up to 72,000 Syrians in Europe, Turkey would ensure better reception (procedures) and contain the flow of immigrants. With the deal, Erdogan had a new blackmail tool in his hands. At the end of 2019, he blackmailed the EU: money or else the borders will open. Despite the many downsides, the deal had an effect: The refugee route via Turkey became less popular. More migrants and human smugglers went to look for other routes.
Increasingly large numbers of asylum seekers attempted to make the crossing through Libya to Italy, sometimes with deadly results. Southern Italian port cities and Greek islands were overrun by illegal immigrants. In addition, the route through Morocco was considered an interesting option. As stated, the Moroccan regime, like Erdogan, used its border fences as political blackmail and encouraged asylum seekers to come. A poisonous cocktail of blackmail, despair, and frustration begins to form in the Strait of Gibraltar.
The European Union saw the storm brewing in 2014 and made a deal with Morocco. A questionable deal with little effect. Since then, in exchange for closing the borders, the North African country receives about €130 million a year in EU subsidies. Subsidies without conditions, it turns out. Morocco gets the money because it is in the European Neighborhood Program. That has as its goal the improvement of the security and prosperity of EU-neighbor counties. Of all concerned countries, Morocco receives the most money from the EU.
Do we allow ourselves to be humiliated by Morocco like this?
Instead of a workable deal, a power-play ensued. Morocco is deliberately playing a dangerous game with the entry ports of the Schengen zone. And the EU? It looks on shocked and indignant, but at the same time paralyzed. The Spanish government decided to take action itself and signed an accord with Morocco, in which it states that anyone who reaches Spanish territory swimming from Morocco can be sent back.
While the security and prosperity of the EU member states are at stake, and Morocco willfully fails to fulfill its obligations, the yearly deposit of EU money goes on. Morocco is the one laughing in the diplomatic row. The Dutch state secretary, Ankie Broekers-Knol, was flatly refused a meeting in 2019 by Morocco itself, and weeks later, once again made a fool of by the Moroccan ambassador after he canceled the meeting for the second time. Do we allow ourselves to be so humiliated by a country where so much EU aid goes?
Don’t permit migration to become the new weapon
It is now time to get on with it. But really. Time for EU subsidies to be frozen until Morocco is ready to talk. What the Netherlands can do in the meantime is suspend landing rights for Moroccan flights. That’s how the EU and the Netherlands can show they are not happy with the Moroccan power plays at the cost of our outer borders.
Moreover, a tough approach to the asylum invasion and the Moroccan help is also necessary out of solidarity with the people of Ceuta and Melilla. While successful border-stormers make their aggressive cries and songs of joy reverberate through the Spanish enclaves, it becomes painfully clear that the EU has a colossal problem.
Experts are already warning: Migration is becoming the new weapon. Turkey under Erdogan already knew this, and now the Moroccan government is realizing it: The weak ports of Europe provide a powerful weapon to bring the EU to its knees. And as long as we are not prepared to take a hard approach and an appropriate policy to send the Moroccans back, this migration war is only in its infancy.
Leon Baten (2002) is a policy worker for the Tweede Kamer fraction JA21, and was a candidate-member of the Chamber. As a student of European Studies and the author of the book European Decay (2020), he nurtures a major interest in the European Union and politics in general.