October 12, 2005

Morocco deports more migrants despite UN criticism

By Lamine Ghanmi

RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco, under pressure to staunch an
inrush of immigrants into Spain, flew 139 illegal migrants back
to Mali on Wednesday and vowed to continue with the mass
deportations despite sharp criticism from the United Nations.

Moroccan officials added that Rabat expects to reach a new
agreement with Spain to bolster its struggle against illegal
immigration, which has taken on new urgency in recent weeks
since hundreds of migrants stormed the Spanish North African
enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.

"More Malian migrant groups will be flown on four similar
flights later today and on Thursday from Oujda to bring the
total number of Malians to be deported to 606," said a senior
government official, who declined to be named.

Oujda lies 540 km (340 miles) east of Rabat and is an entry
point for illegal migrants from Algeria.

The Moroccan government, which deported 549 Senegalese
migrants to Dakar on Monday and Tuesday, said it would send
home more illegal migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa, despite the
protests of a United Nations investigator.

"The Moroccan state is taking its responsibility in the
fight against illegal migration and is determined to protect
its borders," junior foreign minister Taieb Fassi Fihri said.

Fihri told reporters late on Tuesday that Morocco was
fighting "the complex regional problem of immigration."

"Morocco alone cannot tackle immigration. Migrants are
pushed from their countries by poverty, drought and other woes
to Europe," Interior Minister Mustapaha Sahel said at the
briefing, also attended by top security officials.


The deportations drew sharp criticism from the United
Nations' special investigator on human rights, Jorge
Bustamante, who urged Morocco to halt the flights, saying they
were in breach of international conventions.

"Collective deportations in these conditions endanger the
right to life," he said in a statement issued in Geneva. "I
urge the Moroccan government to cease collective deportations
as a matter of urgency."

Bustamante called on the governments of Spain and Morocco
to cooperate in a "prompt, transparent and independent
investigation" into the deaths of at least 11 migrants from
bullet wounds near the Spanish enclaves, possibly at the hands
of security forces.

Sahel and Fihri complained Rabat was getting "not one euro
or a single dollar" from Europe for their country's efforts.

"The illegal immigration involves a cascade of factors and
countries involved in the movement of illegal migrants. Why do
they single out Morocco?" Sahel asked, urging European pressure
on Algeria to stop migrants reaching neighboring Morocco.

He said: "Morocco will continue to deport illegal migrants
caught in its territory by flying them home or escorting them
to land border entries from where they crossed illegally."

Hundreds of African migrants have in recent weeks stormed
Ceuta and Melilla, prompting Madrid and Rabat to deploy more
troops to the frontier. Spain has deported 70 of the illegal
migrants back to Morocco, a move denounced by human rights

Fihri said Rabat and Madrid were considering a new
immigration accord. "We accepted the 70 migrants back after
King Juan Carlos phoned King Mohammed three times seeking
Morocco's help," he added.

(Additional reporting by Thomas Atkins in Geneva)