Morocco: Government grants access to 40 sub-Saharans with UNHCR documentation

Briefing Notes, 8 November 2005

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 8 November 2005, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

On Wednesday last week, UNHCR in Morocco was given access to more than 40 sub-Saharans with UNHCR documentation currently in Guelmin in the southern part of the country. The 40 were on a list of 85 people of concern that UNHCR had given to the Moroccan authorities two weeks earlier. A team of three UNHCR staff spent three days interviewing the individuals in a civilian location close to the Guelmin camp. Their claims for refugee status are currently being assessed.

Later this week, UNHCR hopes to get access to Nador camp near the Spanish enclave of Melilla to interview other individuals on the list. In cooperation with the Moroccan authorities, we are trying to identify the location of the remaining persons of concern.

Meanwhile, we are continuing to receive asylum requests in Rabat. We are reviewing our internal asylum procedures so as to more rapidly and transparently identify asylum seekers with valid claims. We hope to clear our backlog of 1,700 pending cases in the coming weeks. Since 2000, a total of 265 people in Morocco have been recognised as refugees.

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Sighted off Spain's Canary Islands

Despite considerable dangers, migrants seeking a better future and refugees fleeing war and persecution continue to board flimsy boats and set off across the high seas. One of the main routes into Europe runs from West Africa to Spain's Canary Islands.

Before 2006, most irregular migrants taking this route used small vessels called pateras, which can carry up to 20 people. They left mostly from Morocco and the Western Sahara on the half-day journey. The pateras have to a large extent been replaced by boats which carry up to 150 people and take three weeks to reach the Canaries from ports in West Africa.

Although only a small proportion of the almost 32,000 people who arrived in the Canary Islands in 2006 applied for asylum, the number has gone up. More than 500 people applied for asylum in 2007, compared with 359 the year before. This came at a time when the overall number of arrivals by sea went down by 75 percent during 2007.

Sighted off Spain's Canary Islands