EU warned it faces ‘permanent crisis and blackmail’ from Morocco over illegal migration

Spain: Migrants climb over border wall in Ceuta

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Social scientist Gerald Knaus, one of the key architects of the 2016 EU-Turkey refugee agreement, said Brussels must be prepared to form a give-and-take relationship with outside nations – or risk being blackmailed. He said Eurocrats should focus their attention on Ceuta and Melilla, the Spanish enclaves bordering Morocco which are home to the EU’s only frontiers with Africa, to prevent another influx of undocumented migrants.

More than 9,000 people breached Morocco’s border Ceuta last month in a move orchestrated by the Rabat government.

Morocco was eager to hit Spain after the country offered medical treatment to a Western Sahara independence leader.

While the majority of those who scaled fences and swam across to the tiny Spanish territory have been deported, some 1,000 underage migrants remain housed in warehouses run by authorities in Ceuta.

And Spanish newspaper El Pais cited police sources saying between 700 and 1,000 further migrants have yet to be identified.

Mr Knaus predicted long-term migration problems for the territories unless policymakers in Brussels and Madrid were willing to meet the Moroccans halfway.

He told “The reason it happened now has very little to do with causes of migration.

“It’s basically Morocco wanting to send a signal.”

He continued: “What it does show us is that if Europeans want to control their borders they need co-operation with neighbours and the real challenge is how do you create a situation where those neighbours – Tunisia, Morocco or Turkey – have an interest to co-operate with you and not do what Morocco has done just to make a political point, and use migrants as a tool of pressure?”

The migration researcher suggested that to convince Rabat to keep out illegal migrants from the two enclaves, Brussels and Pedro Sanchez’s government could introduce a visa liberalisation programme.

He pointed to the order and stability at the 332-mile border between EU-member state Poland and Ukraine.

The peace there is being kept, he said, because the EU has offered “very attractive” and “precious” incentives to Kiev which means “it has something to lose” if it messes up on security along the boundary.

Since 2017 Ukrainians have enjoyed the liberty of travelling to the EU visa-free.

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Mr Knaus said leaders in Spain and the EU need to do some “soul searching” and ask themselves how they can entice Morocco to comply with border policies.

He explained: “The lesson is very clear: if Morocco has no interest to co-operate, Spain and by extension the European Union, has a problem with irregular migration.

“If Morocco could be induced to cooperate, because there are incentives, irregular migration can be controlled.

“The only way in which you will not be blackmailed, which means you don’t depend on the neighbouring countries, is if you send military to the border and shoot at people, which of course is both illegal and immoral and nobody will do that.

“As long as you are not prepared to be brutal you will depend on the neighbours.

He added: “So it’s not about finding ways that we don’t depend on the neighbours, it’s about finding ways in which the neighbours also depend on us and in which we can ideally stop this sense of permanent pressure and one way to do that would be through even better cooperation with Morocco.

“One of the challenges is, is there a way that the European Union could offer something to Morocco that is in their mutual interest?”

“If a country gets visa liberalisation it also is required to take back its own citizens who have to leave very quickly and it could co-operate in controlling irregular migration of others.

“So it’s along these lines, it’s along these lines of what Europe has done on its eastern border, that I think if we want to get away from this sense of permanent crisis Europeans should think about the southern border.”

Mr Knaus is the founding chairman of the European Stability Initiative (ESI), a think tank dedicated to developing policy ideas on South East Europe, asylum policy, human rights and democracy.

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