Stranded at the Border: Migrants and Refugees Trapped in a No Man’s Land

Algeria, Migration and Asylum, Morocco / Western Sahara, Press Release

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On the occasion of the International Migrants Day, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) calls on the international community to act out on the dramatic situation of migrants and refugees stranded at the border between Algeria and Morocco.[i] The EMHRN takes this opportunity to draw attention to the deteriorating living conditions forthis mixed population, while expressing deep concern about continuing deportation of migrants and refugees to the border.

Poor hygiene, malnutrition and unsafe accommodation are seriously undermining the physical integrity of this population at the border. Access to medical treatment is almost non-existent on the Algerian side, and on the Moroccan side only available thanks to the work of local and international civil society. Abuse, such as that by police forces against them, is rarely reported as migrants and refugees fear arrest and deportation. The EMHRN has also noted with concern that women and unaccompanied minors appear to be the most vulnerable, as they are denied protection from domestic and gender-based violence. Medical treatment for pregnant women and access to education for children seem also to be sorely missing. Furthermore, asylum seekers are struggling to access refugee protection and often run the risk of being deported, due to the lack of clear procedures for refugee status determination and limited UNHCR presence in both countries.

Despite the border being closed since 1994, the Maghnia-Oujda crossing point remains an important migration transit hub from Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia to Europe. A large number of undocumented refugees and migrants are regularly sent back to the border area by Moroccan authorities, under conditions that are particularly worrying – impossibility to appeal the decision, discretionary detention in police stations, deportation of unaccompanied minors and pregnant women, suffering of physical and psychological abuse and dehydration. The expulsions tend to be symbolic since most migrants will likely try to return to Morocco, often under the pressure of the Algerian authorities – this resulting in Morocco and Algeria constantly playing “Ping-Pong” with this population at the border.

On 30 November, EMHRN’s Working Group on the rights of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers met for two consecutive days in Oujda (Moroccan border with Algeria), where it assessed the current situation on the ground.

‘In light of these continued violations, as well as following the recent wave of harassment of migrant organizations and human rights activists, such as Camara Laye,[ii] former president of the Conseil des migrants subsahariens au Maroc (CMSM), we urge the Moroccan authorities to commit to the protection and promotion of migrants’ and refugees’ rights. These violations are all the more alarming in the context of the ongoing mobility partnership negotiations between the European Union and Morocco, which would include the readmission of third country migrants,’ declared Anitta Kynsilehto, member of the EMHRN Executive Committee.

The condition of migrants at the Morocco-Algerian border is but one example of how migrants and refugees see their rights violated every day in the Euro-Med region. The EMHRN thus calls upon both local and European authorities to put an end to these violations and categorically commit to their international obligations to protect and promote – both in law and in practice –the human rights of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

Concerning the legal situation of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in the Maghreb region, the EMHRN will soon be releasing country factsheets on Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya.

Visit the blog of the EMHRN Migration and Asylum Project

[i] For background information about the situation of migrants and refugees at the border and in both countries, please see: Jesuit Refugee Service (2012), “Lives in Transition: The Experiences of Migrants Living in Morocco and Algeria”, http://www.jrseurope.org/publications/LivesInTransitionJRSEUR10Dec2012.pdf; Doctors without Borders report (2010), ”Sexual Violence and Migration. The hidden reality of Sub-Saharan women trapped in Morocco en route to Europe”, http://www.msf.org/msf/fms/article-images/2010-00/Sexual_violence_morocco.pdf; Migreurop’s report (2009) “Les frontières assassines de l’Europe ”, http://www.migreurop.org/IMG/pdf/Rapport-Migreurop-oct2009-def.pdf ; S. Ferhi (2008), “Maghnia, est-elle la « petite  Sangatte » algérienne ?”, http://www.reseau-terra.eu/IMG/doc/FERHI.doc.

[ii] For more information about the case of Camara Laye, please see the PR issued by the Moroccan association GADEM and cosigned by the EMHRN on 23 October 2012, http://www.gadem-asso.org/IMG/pdf/Freedom_for_Camara_L-.pdf