Sale - Morocco has unveiled details of an "exceptional
operation" to give official papers to some of its 25 000-40 000 illegal
immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa, many of whom hope to reach Europe.
The scheme, unveiled on Monday, is part of a new migration
policy which the north African kingdom promised back in September in the face
of growing international criticism.
"The exceptional operation to regularise the situation
of foreigners residing illegally in Morocco" will be rolled out throughout
next year, Interior Minister Mohamed Hassad and Migration Minister Anis Birou
told a press conference in Sale, near Rabat.
Under the new scheme some 850 immigrants recognised as bona
fide asylum-seekers by the UN's refugee agency (UNHCR) will automatically be
given legal residency rights, according to Moroccan officials.
A list of criteria will be drawn up for others hoping to be
considered for the same treatment. The key tests for legalised residency,
taking into account the number of years spent in Morocco, the legal status of a
spouse or parents, employment record and medical history.
The "avant garde" programme is in response to the
recent waves of illegal immigrants, said Hassad.
He added that between 25 000 and 40 000 clandestine
immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa were currently in Morocco.
Human rights groups say the migrants are brought to Morocco
from other African countries by traffickers and camp in the wild waiting for a
chance to cross into the Spanish territories of Melilla and Ceuta, on the north
These are the European Union's only land borders with
Others try to reach Spanish soil - or Italy or Malta - by
sailing across the Mediterranean in makeshift vessels.
Melilla, which has 80 000 inhabitants, is a key crossroads
for migrants who try to slip through to Europe from neighbouring Morocco.
In a bid to ward off regular charges by hundreds of
migrants, Spain announced last week it had begun installing barbed wire and
"anti-climbing" mesh at points along the 11km border.
Morocco's planned measures "arise from a strong wish
expressed by the king", Hassad said.
The new plan was first announced in September after
Morocco's National Human Rights Council (CNDH) issued a report calling for
"a radically new asylum and immigration policy," to which King
Mohamed VI responded by admitting "legitimate concerns".
Those concerns had been rising amid reports of racist
Morocco is the closest African country to mainland Europe,
separated by the Strait of Gibraltar and just 15km from Spain at its narrowest
point, making it one of the key smuggling routes for illegal migrants crossing