September 4, 2019 / 4:03 PM / 2 months ago

Morocco, Spain to bolster cooperation to curb illegal migration

RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco and Spain pledged on Wednesday to cooperate more closely to curb illegal migration, an issue fuelling the growth of far right and populist politics in Europe, following a near halving of migrant arrivals in mainland Spain this year from 2018.

Spain's Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska and Morocco's Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit speak to reporters after a meeting in Rabat, Morocco, September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal

The two countries will work together to counter illegal migration networks, terrorism and organised crime, Spanish Interior minister Grande-Marlaska Gómez told reporters after talks with Moroccan counterpart Abdelouafi Laftit.

Recent years have seen hundreds of thousands of migrants a year attempting the journey to Europe from North Africa, with thousands dying at sea.

Tougher enforcement has brought the numbers down, but attitudes to the migrants have become one of the main faultlines in European politics, driving the rise of parties who want tougher policies.

The Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on Morocco’s northern coast are a magnet for Africans trying to reach Europe in search of a better life. The enclaves are surrounded by a 6-metre-high fence topped with razor wire.

Grande Marlaska said Spain would remove razors from the fence surrounding the two enclaves while increasing the height of the fence to curb crossings.

There has been a 45% drop in migrant arrivals in mainland Spain so far this year, Grande-Marlaska Gómez said, but he added Spain’s Canary Islands had seen a 23% rise in arrivals.

Spain would also cooperate with West African states such as Senegal and Mauritania to curb flows, he added.

Figures released by the International Organisation for Migration show that 14,969 people arrived in Spain by sea from January 1 to August 28 this year, compared to 28,579 in the same period last year.

Moroccan authorities have stopped 57,000 migrants from illegally crossing to Spain so far in 2019, government spokesman Mustapha El Khalfi said last week.

More than 150 migrants stormed into Ceuta on Aug 30, making it the largest breach of the fence since summer 2018.

The Spanish government last month approved 32.2 million euros in aid to Morocco to counter illegal migration. The Eueopoean Union promised 140 million euros in border management aid to help Morocco curb migration flows.

Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi, Editing by William Maclean

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