Morocco flies immigrants back

Morocco, under pressure to stem illegal immigration to Spain and accused by rights groups of mistreating migrants, began flying detained Africans to Senegal and Mali on Monday, government officials said.

    Detained immigrants at the Bouarfa camp

    "We have already flown 140 illegal migrants back home in Senegal this morning and we are preparing a flight of 140 others also to Senegal soon from Oujda," a senior official said.

    He and other officials said a total of 365 Senegalese would be deported by plane on Monday and over the next few days.

    They added that 600 people from Mali would be deported within the next few days.

    Moroccan Junior Foreign Minister Taieb Fihri met Senegalese Foreign Minister Abdou Malal Diop on Monday and then Mali's minister in charge of expatriates, Dicko Omar Hamadoun, over deportations, state news agency MAP said.

    Agreements

    Fihri said, in remarks carried by MAP, Rabat "will not tolerate the illegal presence on its territory" of immigrants.

    Immigrants were cuffed and
    taken south from Bouarfa

    Oujda is 540km east of Rabat and is an entry point for illegal immigrants from Algeria.

    "Morocco has agreements with Mali and Senegal allowing Rabat to deport illegal migrants to these two countries," said a senior government official.

    "Morocco alone is paying for these deportations and does not receive aid from outside," he added.

    The officials gave no further details about the deported immigrants, but rights activists said they were among 1500 left by the Moroccan authorities in the desert last week before they managed to trek back to camps in the Feguig area.

    Concerns

    The authorities' action was reported by the medical aid organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres, which said it had discovered hundreds of people, including pregnant women and children, who said they were rounded up by Moroccan forces and abandoned in the desert.

    The immigrants, most from sub-Saharan Africa, had been escorted by the Moroccan authorities in buses from the north of the kingdom, where they had been trying to enter Spain illegally.

    Annan comments

    Hundreds of sub-Saharan Africans have in recent weeks stormed Spanish North African outposts of Ceuta and Melilla, the only EU territory in Africa.

    Madrid and Rabat have responded by sending troops to the frontier, and Spain has deported some of the new arrivals back to Morocco, a move denounced by humanitarian groups.

    The UNHCR wants to speak to
    immigrants from conflict zones 

    UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has urged the two governments to treat the immigrant groups humanely. The European Union and United Nations are sending teams to Morocco amid growing concern about how the authorities are treating immigrants.

    Francesca Fontanini, spokeswoman for UN refugee agency UNHCR, was with a UNHCR delegation that visited a holding centre for immigrants in Melilla.

    "We are interested in speaking to the people who have come to Melilla from countries where there are conflicts such as Ivory Coast, Sudan, Congo, Liberia or Sierra Leone to see if there is a possibility of political asylum," she said.

    Human rights

    On Friday, Moroccan Communications Minister Nabil Benabdallah responded to criticism of Rabat's treatment of the immigrants by saying it was respecting human rights.

    Rights activist Kabouri Seddik said on Monday: "They bused most of the migrants to Oujda starting late on Sunday. Some buses left Bouarfa early this morning. Just 150 migrants were still in one of two Bouarfa's camps."

    Seddik, a senior official at the independent Moroccan Human Rights Association, said local authorities had told him they had taken the migrants to Oujda, where there was an airport, to be flown home.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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